BEATEN play-off finalists Preston North End exposed Watford's defensive weaknesses to open up the new campaign with a 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road on Saturday, August 6.

Although the Hornets got off to the perfect start - £450,000 signing Darius Henderson heading them in front on his debut both Dave Nugent and Dickson Etuhu capitalised on poor defending to score for the visitors.

All three of Adrian Boothroyd's signings this week went straight into the team, as the Hornets fielded a total of five debutants for their first game of the new campaign. Jordan Stewart was given the nod at left-back, while Clarke Carlisle partnered Jay DeMerit in the heart of the defence. With Gavin Mahon not fit to feature, Dominic Blizzard and Al Bangura formed the central midfield, and captain-for-the-day Marlon King joined Henderson up front.

Preston, meanwhile, had none of their five summer signings in the starting XI, although David Jones, Danny Dichio and Lewis Neal were all on the bench.

Referee Iain Williamson was the first person involved in any real action when he booked Callum Davidson for a late lunge on Ashley Young. The resultant free-kick came to nothing, but soon after Anthony McNamee pulled the first shot of the match wide of the target.

The Hornets survived a penalty appeal after six minutes when Lloyd Doyley challenged Richard Cresswell, but as the Preston striker got to the by-line he was then fouled by Jay DeMerit. Paul McKenna took the free-kick from the left edge of the area and Chris Lucketti's header at the far post was going in until Foster made a superb diving save low to his right.

But two minutes later Henderson started repaying his transfer fee. Young took advantage of a slip from Davidson and cut inside before clipping a cross to the far post where the former Gillingham striker pulled off his man and simply guided a header back and beyond Carlo Nash to score the Hornets' first of the season.

Marlon King warmed Nash's glove with a speculative attempt from 20 yards, and then King shook off the challenge of Youl Mawene and homed in on goal from the right side of the area, only to pull the ball back behind Henderson, who had found space in the area.

Foster was not unduly troubled by a curling McKenna free-kick from around 25 yards on 18 minutes, but four minutes later the visitors were level. Chris Sedgwick turned Stewart rather too easily before slipping a pass through to Nugent, who attacked a retreating Hornets defence before hitting a low, right-footed shot that caught the static and unsighted Foster totally unaware.

An offside flag came to Watford's rescue after 27 minutes when Cresswell played in Nugent through a square defence and the Preston scorer was through on goal. Five minutes later Stewart was in the right place to head a Lucketti header off the line following a corner from the right, but Preston kept the pressure and Foster did well to deny Cresswell, who had a clear shot at goal after being played in.

But the Hornets were finally undone after 36 minutes when the ball was played out to Dickson Etuhu on the right. He shook off Stewart with ease before advancing into the area and crashing a left-foot shot past Foster from 12 yards to make it 2-1.

Watford had the first opportunity of the second-half when Young laid the ball inside to Al Bangura, who in turn found King on the right edge of the six-yard box, but his shot on the turn was deflected behind.

Bangura was booked for persistent fouling after 53 minutes, as the game became increasingly disrupted by the number of free-kicks being awarded.

James Chambers replaced McNamee on the hour, and four minutes later Stewart, who had pushed up into midfield, saw a cross from near the left touchline deflected onto the face of the bar.

Young dragged a shot wide after 69 minutes, but just before that King appeared to be held as he tried to turn in the area but the referee was not interested.

Young looked like he might make something happen after 77 minutes when he did well to win a challenge on the floor and threatened to break through, before he was clearly body-checked by Mawene, who was duly booked. But from the resultant free-kick, the midfielder struck a tame effort that was easy for Nash to deal with.

Hameur Bouazza replaced Stewart with 11 minutes remaining and, almost immediately, he headed a flicked-on Young free-kick wide of the target, and then Henderson struck a tame effort at the keeper.

Bouazza should have done better with four minutes left when he headed over from six yards out following a Doyley long throw from the right, while at the other end McKenna was released in the area, but his low shot didn't unduly worry Foster.

But Watford were unable to manage a last throw of the dice and started the campaign in disappointing fashion.

Watford: Foster; Doyley, DeMerit, Carlisle, Stewart; Young, Blizzard, Bangura, McNamee; King, Henderson. Substitutes: Chambers for McNamee after 60 mins; Bouazza for Stewart after 79 mins; Devlin, Diagouraga and Chamberlain not used.

Preston North End: Nash; Alexander, Mawene, Lucketti, Davidson; Sedgwick, Etuhu, O'Neil, McKenna; Cresswell, Nugent. Substitutes: Agyemang for Nugent after 69 mins; Jones for O'Neil after 75 mins; Davis for Davidson after 81 mins; Dichio and Neal not used.

Bookings: Davidson for a foul on Young after two mins; Bangura for persistent fouling after 53 mins; Young booked for dissent after 58 mins; Jones for O'Neil after 74 mins; Mawene for a foul on Young after 77 mins.

Attendance: 12,597.

Referee: Iain Williamson (Thatcham, Berks)