Watford ended pre-season unbeaten after drawing 1-1 with Sampdoria in their final outing before the Premier League starts next weekend in the Graham Taylor Matchday at Vicarage Road.

Having conceded a poor goal from a set piece in the opening 10 minutes, Watford were disjointed at times and struggled to impose themselves in the first half-an-hour.

But there were signs of improvement as the first 45 minutes came to a close and the Hornets went up through the gears after the break, their effectiveness growing as a result of playing at a higher intensity and with greater purpose.

They had created a handful of chances to get back on terms before they did so nine minutes after the restart when Troy Deeney swept home after Andre Gray had challenged for a cross.

The Hornets did push on for spell in search of a second goal thereafter, but the game was to increasingly peter out towards its conclusion.

Perhaps tellingly though – and not least because of the sweltering heat – Javi Gracia chose to make just the one substitution as he looks to fine tune his starting XI ahead of facing Brighton & Hove Albion next wek.

The head coach’s options for Watford’s final pre-season work-out were still hampered by injury and unavailability – with Abdoulaye Doucoure, Nathaniel Chalobah and Gerard Deulofeu among those again not featuring – but he opted to go with a 4-4-2 formation, partnering Deeney and Gray up front.

Following a very warm minute’s applause in tribute to the Hornets’ greatest ever manager and Rita Taylor and other members of her family introduced to both teams, the game started at a good tempo with the two sides showing positive intent.

Good pressing from Watford created the first opportunity when after Will Hughes had won the ball back, Gray slipped a pass inside to strike partner Deeney but his right-footed strike was straight at keeper Emil Audero.

Vastly experienced Sampdoria skipper Fabio Quagliarella’s game was to last barely six minutes as he was replaced Dawid Kownacki.

Despite this disruption, the visitors were to take the lead two minutes later as, in echoes of last season, the Hornets’ set-piece marking left a lot to be desired.

What in truth was a poorly-struck corner from the left was helped on at the near post to beyond the far upright where the unmarked Jakub Jankto was able to head back into the danger zone and Colley had plenty of space to turn the ball past the exposed Ben Foster.

Roberto Pereyra came close to getting a full head on a dangerous Daryl Janmaat cross as Watford sought to respond, but the visitors were soon to be asking questions from another corner, which was flicked on by Gregoire Defrel, taking the ball narrowly out of range of a teammate in the heart of the area.

In general though, and following a break for drinks mid-way through the first half, both the contest and Watford’s display were rather bitty and disjointed.

But the hosts did produce a good move in the 36th minute that started with Christian Kabasele advancing out of the back before switching play to Jose Holebas on the left, the left-back swung in a good cross and Gray got ahead of his man to head narrowly over the top.

Kabasele was soon forced into a fine sliding tackle at the other end to halt the advances of Defrel, who had got in behind the defence. Soon after though, Watford had another opportunity when Etienne Capoue’s superb long pass released Gray momentarily, but after letting the ball bounce he lashed a shot wide of the near post.

The chances kept coming at the end of the first half; Holebas setting Ken Sema away on the left and his pull back was deflected dangerously across the six-yard box before the Italian side managed to put it out for a corner as they took their one-goal advantage into the break.

Watford made a promising start to the second half, with Deeney attempting to catch Aduero out with a lob before a good build-up ended with Janmaat getting it all wrong as he managed to hit the roof of the Rookery with a shot.

An even better opportunity came and went when Peryra slipped in Sema on the left side of the area, he squared for Deeney, but the skipper saw his goal-bound effort blocked.

Next a one-touch build-up involving Capoue and Deeney ended with Pereyra releasing Gray on the right side of the area, but the striker arguably wanted one touch too many to try and make sure and his shot was saved by Aduero.

The chances kept coming with Capoue picking out Holebas on the left side of the area, he controlled the ball on his chest before hitting a dipping left-foot half-volley across the target and wide.

But Watford’s good start to the second half was to be rewarded in the 54th minute when Holebas crossed from deep into the area, Gray challenged for the ball and it broke ideally for Deeney to strike a right-footed finish past Audero to make it 1-1.

Having got back on terms, Gracia’s men continued to keep the pressure on and won a number of corners, one of which led to a Holebas delivery from the left falling for Hughes on the right side of the area, but he shot wide.

There had been signs that Deeney and Gray were developing a nice understanding, illustrated in the 68th minute when the Hornets skipper played a good pass through the Sampdoria defence to his teammate but Audero had anticipated the danger and was able to make the save.

Sampdoria had made nine changes by the time Gracia made his first three minutes later, Ashley Charles coming on in place of Hughes in the 71st minute.

The home side’s attacking intent had diminished for a spell but they weren’t too far away from taking the lead when a Holebas free-kick picked out the run of Gray at the near post and he fired wide.

Overall though, the game rather drifted towards the end although the small, but vocal band of Sampdoria fans were to be still be chanting after full-time.

Watford: Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Charles 71), Capoue, Pereyra, Sema; Deeney, Gray. Subs not used: Gomes, Dahlberg, Prodl, Mariappa, Wilmot, Navarro, Femenia, Masina, Success.

Sampdoria: Audero (Rafael 71); Bereszynski (Sala 63, Rolando 88)), Anderson (Ferrari 63), Colley (Leverbe 12), Murru (Tavares 46); Linetty (Praet 46), Barreto (Vieira 63), Caprari, Jankto (Verre 71); Defrel (Ramirez 63), Quagliarella (Kownacki 7, Stijepovic 74)). Sub not used: Belec.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.

Attendance: 6,322.