Watford's stuttering start to the season continued as they were graciously handed a point by David Moyes' Preston North End in a 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road last night.
Last season the two teams were dreaming of life among the English élite this year but, following slow starts this time around, on last night's performance it would seem unlikely that either will be contemplating even a top-six finish.
Since Gianluca Vialli took over at Watford in the summer he has made sweeping changes to his squad, while Moyes has struggled to inspire his men to the level of play which saw them just lose out in the play-offs last term.
Vialli made four changes, some enforced by injury, some prompted by performance, from the side that drew with Birmingham last week in a game that marked Watford's fourth without a win. Pierre Issa and Micah Hyde both failed to recover from injuries while Ramon Vega and Marcus Gayle found themselves victims of Watford's disappointing position in the league.
Jon Macken's opening goal arrived on 23 minutes. The Preston striker was gifted the opportunity after the Watford defence slipped, allowing Michael Jackson two chances to send Graham Alexander's cross from a short corner goalbound. While the newly-formed Watford back three, Filippo Galli and the youngsters Paul Robinson and Lloyd Doiley, dithered, the goalkeeper Espen Baardsen could only parry into the path of Macken.
The striker almost added to Vialli's embarrassment immediately afterwards as Rob Edwards' cross from the left found him in an ocean of space by the penalty spot, but he failed to keep his header down. The Watford manager's half-time analysis may have made Alex Ferguson's tirade a day earlier seem timid, as he utilised all three substitutes at the start of the second half. On came Gayle and Gifton Noel-Williams to form a three-pronged attack, while Stephen Hughes, on his return from injury, slotted into the midfield.
But it was Preston who not only scored Watford's equaliser but also assisted in its build-up as first Sean Gregan needlessly got his head to Stephen Glass's free-kick, which was drifting harmlessly out. Glass swung in the resulting corner which Michael Jackson, under pressure only from his team-mate Chris Lucketti, headed into his own net at the far post.
The incident discouraged Moyes' men as Watford pushed forward, searching for their own contribution to a goal in the game. But where attack had previously been the least of Vialli's worries in previous games, here it proved troublesome as the Preston defence took hold, reducing Gayle to a glancing header and Noel-Williams to an audacious long-range effort in the aftermath of the goal.
Goals: Macken (22) 0-1; Jackson og (52) 1-1.
Watford: Baardsen; Robinson, Vernazza, Galli, Smith, Glass, Wooter (Gayle, h-t), Helguson (Noel-Williams, h-t), Fisken (Hughes, h-t), Cox, Doiley, Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Noble.
Preston North End: Moilanen; Alexander, Jackson, Gregan, Cartwright, Rankine, Healy (Cresswell, 90), Edwards, McKenna, Macken, Lucketti. Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Murdoch, Barry-Murphy, Anderson.
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).
Booking: Preston: Macken.
Man of the match: Edwards.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies