Alex Neil said Watford’s third goal led to a ‘disappointing and frustrating’ end to his Preston North End side’s 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road.
Despite putting up a competitive display, North End trailed by two early in the second half, and while Tom Barkhuizen deservedly pulled one back on 55 minutes, the Hornets went on to win it with further strikes from Nathaniel Chalobah and Joao Pedro.
Speaking to iFollow PNE after the game, Alex did feel there were some encouraging signs from his team in possession.
“I think the goal was disappointing, the lad gets inside us at the back post, which is frustrating, particularly when we’ve got five across the back – you shouldn’t lose anybody off the back of your shoulder,” he said.
“I think that when you do concede that, you’re thinking, ‘We need to go and try to get back into the game’. I think we had a couple of chances, I thought before that, we had two opportunities before they actually score.
“The game panned out exactly as we expected, they would have spells of it, we would have spells of it, and I thought we used the ball pretty well at times, I thought that we were a threat, I think equally they’re a threat and we know the players that they’ve got.”
However, the boss was disappointed with how the visitors claimed their goals at the other end of the pitch, with the third goal allowing the hosts to take control.
“I think the biggest difficulty you’ve got is we go into the game with no fit full backs throughout the entire team and we know we need to plug gaps. I felt that giving us that back five as a platform would have gave us the best chance to do it.
“I thought the goals were what cost us the match really because it was just bad defending. We’re reactive, we jump into tackles, give a penalty away, and that’s the difference in the match because I think, to be honest, up until about 60 minutes, it was a good competitive game; we go 2-1 and we’re thinking, ‘Yeah, go on then’.
“Then as soon as they score the third one, our boys are flattened. We’ve got a couple of lads that haven’t played in a long time which I need to then take off because they’re starting to tire.
“The game finishes on a manner which is really disappointing and frustrating for me because 60 minutes, it was a good, competitive game, and then after that, they just sort of pass it about and we don’t really have any threat if we’re being honest towards the later part of the match.”
There were strong shouts for a North End penalty when Emil Riis appearing to be nudged to the ground with the scoreline still at 3-1, and while unsure whether the Lilywhites should have had a spot kick, Alex agreed it might have provided a turning point in proceedings.
“Goals change games and big opportunities within the match change games. It’s hard for me to see, it just looked as if he gets sandwiched in between two, if they touch the ball, I’m not quite sure. I don’t know whether it was a penalty or not but it was certainly a claim for a penalty.
“If we get it, it potentially puts us back into the game and then we’ve got 20 minutes left to go and see how the game pans out. If you gift goals away, you don’t give yourself any opportunity and to be honest, that’s the story of the match; the fact that we just didn’t defend that area of the pitch well enough and it’s cost us the game.”
Ben Davies and Ben Pearson were welcomed back into the starting fold after their respective injuries, and Alex explained that they were both substituted off as a precaution ahead of the midweek trip to Bournemouth, for which he is hopeful more players will return – with Alan Browne and Joe Rafferty both having now served their one-match suspensions.
“I thought the two Bens were excellent,” he added. “They make a difference to us as everybody is aware, and I thought you could see that today, they were key in us retaining the ball and building in the first half.
“As the game wears on, Pearo’s not done a lot at all, and he’s playing in a position where he’s covering a lot of ground, so we need to protect him. Ben Davies as well, I didn’t feel there was any need for that last ten minutes to take any risks with him.
“We just need to try and get them wrapped up, hope they can recover in time for the next one and we’ve got a couple of players back, which will help us, and then we look forward to the next game.”
Watch more from Alex on iFollow PNE.