Malky Mackay believes the Watford coaches and players “have a lot to be proud of” after finishing two places higher in the Championship table than last season.

The Hornets ended the campaign in 14th after yesterday’s 3-1 defeat at Preston North End, having been in or around the top ten for the majority of 2010/11. Last season they were in a relegation battle from March onwards before back-to-back victories in the last two games lifted them up to 16th.

Mackay reflected on his side’s finishing position after being asked about Tommie Hoban, the 17-year-old centre half who made his debut as a first-half replacement for the injured Martin Taylor.

The Watford boss said: “We’ve got Britt [Assombalonga] on the bench, Gavin Massey up here today and two under-17s – Sean Murray and Tommie – on the pitch. It’s where we are as a football club. We knew at the start of the season we had a small squad, probably the second lowest budget in the league and we were tipped for relegation.

“I’ve just spoken to them and initially we spoke about the game but further to that the season they’ve had and the strides they’ve made. To finish in a higher position than last year, to not really be flirting with danger on the relegation side of it all season and to come in the dressing room and see so many kids and 14 debuts this year, certainly the coaching staff and the football playing staff have got a lot to be proud of to finish where they have because of that.”

Asked about the display of Murray, who made his full debut after making his first appearance in last week’s defeat to champions Queens Park Rangers, Mackay said: “He’s a youngster who’s been playing under-18s, he was at school nine months ago and he’s someone that, again, for the longer term future of Watford it’s bright when you’ve got youngsters like him and Hoban, Adam Thompson, Massey and [Piero] Mingoia coming through.

“We felt why not get him involved today and I’m delighted that he went on there and gave everything he had. He ends up coming off with cramp but he’s got a few years left in him yet to grow and develop but it was good to give him the opportunity and the experience here.”