Noel-Williams accepts Preston gift

Preston North End 1 Watford 1
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A gift goal to Gifton Noel-Williams denied this week's hardest-worked team in the First Division a third win in six days.

The Preston manager, David Moyes, had complained about the fixture planning before the game. But even against a Watford side coming off an 11-day break, North End were fresh enough to dominate until Sean Gregan completely missed his kick in attempting to clear a long ball from Wayne Brown.

It ran free for Noel-Williams to take it past Teuvo Moilanen and slide it into the empty net for a point which Gianluca Vialli's side scarcely deserved.

They had been on the receiving end of a Preston display that spoke volumes for their fitness. With wins over Sheffield United in the Cup on Saturday and Bradford City in the League on Tuesday behind them, North End still had the fuel in the tank to keep Watford under pressure in the first half.

David Healy, Richard Cresswell and Jon Macken had given them all sorts of trouble before they finally got the goal they merited – and a memorable one it was.

Graham Alexander, whose goals tend to be from the penalty spot, latched onto a clearance 30 yards out and hammered it into the top corner with as clean a right-footed strike as you could wish to see.

Alexander almost set up a second before half time with an inviting cross that Michael Keane could only steer back across goal, but Preston began the second half looking equally dangerous. Macken was within inches of a goal to celebrate his coming off the transfer list when he narrowly failed to make contact with Cresswell's cross.

Apart from the occasional flash from Jermaine Pennant, on loan from Arsenal, Preston were still making all the running but then, out of the blue, came Watford's equaliser.

Keane almost restored their advantage immediately with a header superbly saved by Alec Chamberlain. Lee Cartwright also went close, but by now Preston were beginning to look a little leg weary and ragged. And they were perhaps fortunate that Dickson Etuhu, making his home debut, only saw a yellow card for a two-footed tackle on Noel-Williams.

"There was a big improvement in our spirit and tempo in the second half," said Vialli. "But I think the Preston players felt a bit of tiredness."

There was no disagreement on that from Moyes. "I thought it was inevitable. We needed a second goal so we could sit back a bit," he said. "It was unfair."

Preston North End (4-3-1-2): Moilanen; Alexander, Lucketti, Gregan, Eaton; Cartwright (Basham, 68), Etuhu, Keane; Healy (Barry-Murphy, 62); Macken (Anderson, 68), Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Skora.

Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Doyley (Brown, 63), Galli, Vega, Blondeau; Pennant, Hand, Okon, Nielsen (Cook, 63); Noble (Gayle, 81), Noel-Williams. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Fisken.

Referee: G Laws (Whitley Bay).