Watford secured an immediate return to the Premier League this season, finishing second to Norwich City in the Championship. It wasn’t too much of a surprise given they had managed to hold on to the majority of their squad following relegation.
Of course the transfer market was a bit different due to the pandemic, and therefore the three relegated clubs were able to compete very effectively, with all finishing in the top six. With players like Ismail Sarr, Joao Pedro and Troy Deeney, you would expect the attacking prowess to be Watford’s advantage this season.
However it was at the other end of the pitch where they impressed the most. The Hornets conceded just 30 goals in the 46 league games this season, equalling a Championship record that Preston North End set in the 2005-06 season. Unfortunately whilst it led to promotion for The Hornets, it only led to more play-off heartache for The Lilywhites.
Billy Davies was in his second season at Deepdale, and everything seemed to click that year. It was certainly the best Preston team I have seen in my time as a fan. They lost just six games all season, with only two of those coming from October onwards.
Looking back it was an incredible season. Preston finished in fourth place that year before falling in the play-off semi-final against Leeds United. Watford would actually go on to beat them to promotion that season, having themselves lost the opening game of the campaign at home to Preston.
Davies had assembled a solid team, especially in defence. Carlo Nash was a great goalkeeper, and we have rarely seen anyone near his standard since, especially as a permanent player at the club. The defence was mainly made up of Tyrone Mears, Graham Alexander, Claude Davis and Youl Mawene, with Chris Lucketti, Matt Hill and Callum Davidson also in the squad. Youl and Claude had a great partnership and are an iconic duo to this day.
The watertight defence allowed for some narrow victories, as they weren’t the most prolific of sides. David Nugent was top scorer with 10 league goals. In many ways it was a strange season with North End not winning at home until November.
It was an impressive season nonetheless and one which should have ended in promotion. David Jones, Simon Whaley and Patrick Agyemang are others who contributed to the 4th place finish that year. Ultimately though many of the star players moved on in the few years after.
Billy Davies was poached by Derby County and would finally reach the promised land as a manager with them, whilst Tyrone Mears and Claude Davis earned Premier League moves in 2006.
Watford have done the same now, and 15 years on, we’re still wondering how Preston didn’t go up with that team.