Watford responded to the doubts that had been expressed in some quarters following two disappointing attacking displays on the road with their best attacking peformance of the campaign as they convincingly beat Preston North End 4-1.

With Troy Deeney back making his first start of the season and switching to a 4-4-2 formation, the Hornets looked more cohesive and threatening as an attacking unit from the outset.

The home side made the early breakthrough when Domingos Quina’s run to the back post was rewarded with a simple finish to convert a cross from Ismaila Sarr.

Preston had their attacking moments in the first half, but after the break the Hornets turned the attacking screw with the captain, making his first start of the season, pivotal to much of his side’s good work before he was replaced with 20 minutes remaining.

Deeney first opened his account for the season from the penalty spot after Sarr had been fouled in the area.

Although Tom Barkhuizen pulled one back shortly after with a deflected strike from distance, the two-goal cushion was quickly restored as Nathaniel Chalobah worked a lovely give-and-go with Deeney before finishing with a superbly controlled volley.

Joao Pedro, on as a first-half substitute for the injured Andre Gray, made it 4-1 and the Hornets had more chances to net a fifth as their impressive home form continued.

Vladimir Ivic made just the one change that struggled to create anything in the goalless draw at Bristol City, but it was a significant change in that regard with Deeney replacing Pedro in attack in what was a switch to 4-4-2.

Preston had been dogged with problems in the build-up to the game and boss Alex Neil made five changes to the side that was beaten 3-0 at home by Blackburn Rovers in midweek.

The visitors’ resources may have bee stretched but they had the first meaningful attempt of the game in the third minute when Sean Maguire let fly from 25 yards, forcing Ben Foster to tip over.

Watford were soon on the front foot though, and their first effort came when Deeney and James Garner combined nicely to tee up Quina on the edge of the area, but he went for placement rather than power and Declan Rudd was able to save comfortably.

There was concern at the other end moments later when the ball was played to Maguire on the left edge of the 18-yard box and he cut it back for Brad Potts to hit a first-time left footed shot across goal and not too far wide.

The Hornets responded to that scare positively, with Kiko Femenia coming inside off the left and hitting a good right-footed shot which a diving Rudd did well to parry at his near post.

The home side kept the pressure on and were rewarded for their early positivity in the ninth minute when a cross from the left arrived at the feet of Sarr on the opposite side of the box, he turned back inside and floated in a fine cross and Quina was rewarded for his willingness to attack the far post with a simple finish from close range to make it 1-0.

Watford Observer:

This helped settle the Hornets down and Gray was the next to try his luck with a scuffed shot on the turn wide after Garner had seen his initial effort from distance blocked.

Garner was making an impression again midway through the half, but this time for the wrong reason as he received a yellow card for a foul on Potts.

Watford dealt with the initial set piece from the right edge of their box well enough, only for Gray to try and lay the ball back into his own area and present Patrick Bauer with a great chance to equalise, but Foster was alert to the danger and blocked from close range. It was a bad mistake from the striker who had otherwise started quite well and was looking a lot happier with company up front on his 100th Hornets appearance.

It was also to turn out to be Gray’s last involvement of note in the game because he was to sustain an injury soon after and was replaced by Pedro.

The Brazilian was soon involved at the sharp end, winning a header from a Sarr cross but it lacked the power to trouble Rudd.

The game was going through a scrappy phase but the Hornets did create an opportunity in the 36th minute when Femenia broke forward on the left before feeding Pedro, who played in a low cross which Deeney was unable to get enough on to turn the ball goalwards.

Preston enjoyed their best spell of sustained possession in the latter stages of the half, but as the game moved into injury time Watford thought they had doubled their lead when a Garner corner from the right picked out an unmarked Deeney, he headed towards the far post where Pedro turned the ball in from close range, only for the flag to be immediately raised for offside.

There was still time for the Hornets to have another opportunity when Preston failed to deal with a Femenia cross from the left and Sarr hit a rising angled volley which Rudd tipped over. The referee awarded a corner but then blew for the interval before it could be taken.

Watford continued their positive approach in the opening stages of the second half and that was rewarded six minutes after the restart when Jeremy Ngakia drilled a ball into Deeney, he chested down to Sarr and the Senegal winger was taken out by Jordan Storey.

Watford Observer:

Deeney resumed penalty duties and the outcome was emphatic, as he rifled the spot kick right down the middle of the goal to make it 2-0, although Rudd did get a touch on the rising strike.

The two-goal lead didn’t last long though, as in the 55th minute Barkhuizen decided to chance his arm from 25 yards and his shot took a big deflection off Garner that gave Foster no chance as the visitors moved to within a goal again.

Once again though, the two-goal advantage was quickly restored as the Hornets scored a fine third a couple of minutes later.

Chalobah played the ball into Deeney, he returned it with a first-time chipped pass and the Hornets midfielder continued his run to strike a fine first-time volley across Rudd and into the far corner to make it 3-1 with his first of the season.

The Hornets were in the mood now; Deeney hit a shot narrowly wide, Rudd tipped over an Ngakia effort from distance before the former West Ham United defender dinked a cross into the area which Deeney looked odds-on to convert, only to head over the top with the goal at his mercy.

Ivic opted to give Deeney and Femenia some extra recuperation time with 20 minutes remaining, replacing them with Stipe Perica and Ben Wilmot respectively.

The one-way traffic continued as Garner saw another effort from distance deflected wide and from the resulting corner number four arrived.

Garner drilled in the set piece from the right, Craig Cathcart flicked on and this time Pedro’s close-range finish was allowed to stand as he scored his fifth of the campaign.

Watford Observer:

The Preston boss made his second and third substitutions shortly after and one of these replacements, Tom Bayliss, was in the right place to head a Potts pull back towards goal, but Foster was not unduly concerned.

Ngakia saw another long-range effort deflected over before some neat inter-play in and around the Preston box ended with Sarr curling wide.

Ivic used the closing stages to give some minutes to Francisco Sierralta and Dan Phillips as they replaced Cathcart and Garner respectively.

Quina saw a late shot saved but both he and his team-mates could reflect on arguably their best afternoon’s work of the campaign to date.

Watford: Foster; Ngakia, Kabasele, Cathcart (Sierralta 87), Femenia (Wilmot 70); Sarr, Chalobah, Garner (Phillips 87), Quina; Deeney (Perica 70), Gray (Pedro 31). Subs not used: Bachmann, Troost-Ekong, Navarro, Crichlow.

Preston North End: Rudd; Storey, Bauer, Davies (Huntington 82); Sinclair, Potts, Pearson (Ledson 65), Johnson (Bayliss 78), Barkhuizen; Riis Jakobsen (Stockley 78), Maguire. Subs not used: Ripley, Holland-Wilkinson, Baxter, O’Reilly, Coulton.

Bookings: Garner for a foul on Potts (23).

Referee: Jarred Gillett.