Joao Pedro’s second half penalty gave Watford a crucial three points in their promotion challenge in a closely-contested match against Preston North End.
In a game that lacked a lot of cutting edge, a spot kick decided the contest on a bitterly cold night in Lancashire.
Preston had the first big chance of the half on 11 minutes, and it came when Ben Whiteman lobbed an audacious ball over the top of the Watford defence, whose line was breached by Ched Evans.
The striker latched onto the pass but from close range he somehow lofted the ball over Daniel Bachmann’s crossbar when it seemed harder to miss than score.
Evans had another chance for North End not long after, outmuscling Watford defender Francisco Sierralta before slipping the ball past him, but unfortunately PNE’s number 26 lost his balance and fired the ball short of Bachmann’s near post.
Watford spent a lot of the first half with the ball in the Lilywhites’ half, but they had very little end product to show for it, with the final ball always falling short and Daniel Iversen between the sticks for PNE was hardly tested.
If Watford lacked a cutting edge in the first 45 minutes, they found it just six minutes into the second half.
It was really gifted to them by Preston’s Tom Barkhuizen, who left a leg in on Joao Pedro inside his own area and referee Tony Harrington had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Pedro got himself up off the deck and fired the ball low and half into the bottom-left corner, despite the best attempts of Iversen to get a hand to it.
PNE huffed and puffed without any end product following that, with Tom Barkhuizen sending a chance on the hour mark into row Z of the stand behind the goal, which was the most threatening North End had looked for a while.
Their best chance of the half came on 83 minutes, as Everton loanee Anthony Gordon’s whipped free-kick fell to Liam Linsday in the box, and his close range effort was deflected behind.
It was Watford who actually had the best late chance of the game, with Will Hughes firing across the goalmouth following a short corner, but none of his team-mates could divert it over the line before it was cleared.
Preston piled on the pressure in the final minutes but it was to no avail as Watford clung on to the three points.
FULL TIME: Preston North End 0-1 Watford