Watford got the better of a hard-fought battle to pick up a 2-1 victory in their second game of pre-season against German side Bayer Leverkusen.

A first-half finish from Will Hughes, followed by a gift of a second from Andre Gray ensured the Hornets remain on track with their preparations for the upcoming Premier League campaign, despite Leverkusen pulling one back through Moussa Diaby.

Head coach Javi Gracia made nine changes to the starting line-up that played against Ajax on Thursday, with only Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue remaining, while Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu also started as part of a stronger-looking side.

The game took a while to progress beyond a midfield scrap with moments of quality rare in a fixture that saw two well-matched sides struggle to overcome one another with any degree of regularity.

The Hornets, as they had against Ajax two days before, worked solidly to limit their opponents’ chances in front of goal with a strong defensive display.

Nevertheless, Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz looked the most threatening player for either side in the game’s opening 15 minutes and he had the first two real opportunities to break the deadlock.

The first of which came in the seventh minuted when Mitchell Weiser escaped from Jose Holebas on the right hand side. He slipped the ball into the path of Havertz, whose shot thumped into the advertising boards next to Ben Foster’s goal.

The midfielder then had another good chance to hit the target from a counter-attack after Watford had squandered a good opportunity of their own. 

Hughes had pounced upon a loose ball in the Leverkusen half and charged forward, with Deeney and Deulofeu providing support and giving the Hornets an extra man advantage over the two centre backs. 

However, the former Derby County man opted to hold the ball up on the edge of the area and wait for Doucoure to join the attack and ended up conceding possession with a mistimed pass. 

Leverkusen used the possession well and swiftly broke down the other end with Paulinho, who pulled the ball back to Havertz, but his first-time strike ballooned high over the top.

Gracia’s men responded well and finished the half with greater creativity. Ken Sema had the chance to unleash a shot when the ball fell kindly to him following a scramble in the area, but his strike was blocked by inadvertently by Deulofeu, who was stood in an offside position. 

Deulofeu created a chance for himself with just over ten minutes of the first-half remaining, when he broke down the right and charged into the box. He leant back upon connection and fired his powerful effort over the bar. 

The Hornets were starting to make good progress down that right wing and it was from there they broke the deadlock just a minute later when Deeney surged forward and found enough time and space to look up and pick out Hughes who had made his way into the box. He slid the ball back across Lukas Hradecky to make it 1-0 to Watford at the break.

Gracia made several changes at the break once again, which included the introduction of Heurelho Gomes in goal after his decision to stay with the club for one more season.

The Brazilian instantly proved he is still more than capable of performing at the highest level, with a string of saves shortly after the restart.

He was tested for the first time when Kerem Demirbay’s shot from range dipped and swerved in the air on its way to goal, but the veteran shot-stopper read the flight of the ball well and punched it clear from underneath the crossbar.

The 38-year-old then produced a sprawling save down to his right to keep out Kevin Volland’s curling effort from outside the box, which was destined for the bottom corner. 

From the resulting dead ball, Volland connected well with a stinging effort, but once again Gomes was up to the challenge and beat it away. 

After defending well and keeping out Leverkusen’s attack, Watford doubled their advantage at the other end with a gift-wrapped goal for substitute Andre Gray.

Hradecky received the ball from one of his defenders on the edge of his area, but Gray was quick to apply pressure and forced a mistake from the Finnish keeper who tried to play an ill-thought out pass. 

Gray intercepted and with the goal at his mercy, the striker thumped the ball home to double the Hornets’ advantage. 

Leverkusen did not let their heads drop, despite being two down and they halved the deficit in the 65th minute when Diaby added his name to the scoresheet.

A clever flick from Havertz played the French winger in for a one-on-one and there was nothing Gomes could do to prevent him from finding the net.

Volland might well have earned his side a draw with just over 15 minutes remaining when he was given the freedom of the Hornets’ 18-yard-box to connect with a delivery from the right, but his header span harmlessly away from Gomes’ goal.

Demirbay tried to increase his influence on the game as Leverkusen went in search of an equaliser in the closing stages, but his shots from outside the area failed to threaten Gomes, while Watford stood firm under increasing pressure from the German side to hold on for the win.