Malky Mackay was delighted to see his players receive the rewards of their hard work on the training pitch during Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Preston North End.

First-half goals from on loan QPR striker Heidar Helguson and Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley meant Watford went into the break 2-0 up and the Hornets stayed strong at the back during the second half to secure their first home clean sheet since the beginning of September.

During his post-match press conference, Watford boss Mackay said: “I don’t think 2-0 is a comfortable lead. It can always lead to pressure and I think Scott Loach’s save with ten minutes to go was fantastic.

“But I do feel our back four were incredibly resilient and they stood up to every challenge the experienced Preston forwards threw at them.

“We nullified them but we also threatened in the second half as well. I think we had some great chances and but for some good defending and goalkeeping, it could have been another couple.”

Watford had conceded 11 goals in their previous four home games and Craig Cathcart had only kept one clean sheet in the eight appearances since his arrival prior to Saturday.

But the Manchester United defender was much improved against Preston and dealt well with the 6ft 4 Jon Parkin.

Former centre back Mackay said: “I think Parkin can be as awkward as anyone in this division to play against, I have seen that myself, so I think Craig Cathcart and Aidy Mariappa were magnificent in the way they handled both him, Neil Mellor, Chris Brown, Stephen Elliot - all guys who have hundreds of games in Championship experience under their belt. The back four I thought were exceptional.”

The Hornets lost 5-0 to West Bromwich Albion in their previous game but Mackay said his players had worked hard in training in the week building up to the Preston match and was pleased to see them reap the rewards.

Mackay said: “We were all disappointed with the way we conceded the goals [at West Brom]. The squad are learning every week and they trained hard in the week and it is great to see the rewards on the pitch and the way they applied themselves.”

Click to hear any of Mackay’s post-match press conferences from this season