A Joao Pedro penalty was enough to divide Watford and Preston North End at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with the teenager's strike giving the Hornets a hard-fought 1-0 win.

It was a fourth away victory of the season for Watford, who had to be patient against a resolute and determined North End back line, who gave very little away on the night, forcing the visitors to dig deep to claim three points.

Ahead of the match there was little surprise to see Xisco Munoz stick with the 4-3-3 formation that saw the Hornets put six past an injury-stricken Bristol City at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon, with William Troost-Ekong the only player not to retain his place in the starting line-up. He was replaced by Craig Cathcart.

Despite sticking with the side that had shown great imagination during that win against the Robins, the first half was something of a slog, with the home side standing firm and reducing the Hornets to half chances, while creating a couple of good openings themselves at the other end.

Watford carved out their first tentative glimpse of goal within the opening two minutes of the match with Tom Cleverley floating a ball out to the left after darting into the penalty area. His cross ended up at the feet of Ken Sema, who knocked back into the path of Pedro, only for the Brazilian to steer his effort wide.

While Pedro’s chance was far from clear cut, the same could not be said about the one that fell to Ched Evans just after the ten-minute mark. A ball over the top found the midfielder in behind the Watford defenders and he really should have found the net but instead blazed over from six yards out.

Evans might have done better again seven minutes later when he shimmied away from Francisco Sierralta to create some space for a shot inside the penalty area, however this time he fired wide of Daniel Bachmann’s near post.

The visitors meanwhile were struggling to find the cohesion they had shown in that benchmark performance at the weekend, with crosses from Kiko Femenia out on the right headed clear all too easily by Preston, whose robust defensive unit was making life difficult for the Hornets.

A Cleverley cross looked to have picked out Pedro at the far side of the penalty area, but Alan Browne nodded out, while Ismaila Sarr could only volley over after another ball into the box from the deputy skipper was once again knocked away with ease.

Pedro had another half chance midway through the first half when he glanced another Cleverley delivery towards goal, but he was unable to make enough of a connection to cause Daniel Iversen any significant issues.

A Will Hughes shot from distance after the half-hour mark was deflected over the bar to set up a fleeting moment of commanding football from the Hornets, with all their outfield players pushed forward in attack.

Several balls were pumped into the box, looking for the heads of Cathcart and Sierralta, who had made their way forward to impose their strength, but Preston were resolute and commanding in the air and the moment of threat passed, having been all too brief.

As the two sides made their way down the tunnel at the break, it was clear that patience and a touch more creativity was required if the Hornets were to make a breakthrough in the second half.

They offered plenty of the latter when they opened the scoring just eight minutes after the restart, with Adam Masina clipping a delicate ball into the path of Sema to the left of the penalty area.

The Swedish international jinked towards the six-yard box and cut the ball back to Pedro, who showed great strength before he was upended by Tom Barkhuizen. The Brazilian then calmly dispatched the penalty to claim his seventh goal of the season.

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Pedro's strike forced Preston to try and get back on the front foot, but they looked nervous in front of goal and squandered a couple of decent opportunities to level the scoring.

First Liam Lindsay powered a header over the bar from a corner before Barkhuizen guided an effort into the stands after he had cut inside the penalty area from the left, with Femenia backing away.

Femenia was then presented with a chance of his own at the other end, as he latched onto Nathaniel Chalobah’s neat lay-off. However, the full-back thumped his shot wide of Iversen’s near post, after charging into the 18-yard box.

It took until the 77th minute for the next real chance to arrive and it once again went Watford’s way, as Cleverley came close to ending a run of almost five years’ worth of football without the Hornets scoring directly from a free kick.

Not since Almen Abdi’s effort against Aston Villa in April 2016 has a Watford player converted from a dead ball situation and while the captain’s effort had the beating of Iversen, it dropped just over the bar.

With ten minutes left on the clock, Preston created their best opportunity to draw level when substitute Emil Riis headed an Anthony Gordon free kick against the back of one of his teammates, before snatching at the loose ball, smashing it wide of the post.

Substitute Philip Zinckernagel came close to putting the result beyond any doubt in the final minute of normal time when he diverted a Hughes cross from the left towards the North End goal, but another Hughes, Preston's Andrew, was standing on the line and he hooked the ball away before the lead could be doubled.

Nevertheless, the Hornets saw the game out to give them back-to-back wins and lift themselves above Swansea City into third place for the time being, although the Swans still have three games in hand.