Ryan Lowe bemoaned Preston’s “Jekyll and Hyde” performance as they shipped four second-half goals in a 5-1 Championship defeat at home to Watford.
Will Keane gave the Lilywhites an early lead but Vakoun Bayo levelled just before half-time, precipitating the hosts’ collapse.
Bayo, Matheus Martins, Edo Kayembe and Ismael Kone all struck after the break to earn Watford a second away league win on the bounce.
Lowe said: “In the first half we were fantastic. We looked like we’d carried on from where we left off against Huddersfield.
“I asked the lads at half-time to get on the front foot more, but then straight from the kick-off, one ball through the middle goes on to kill us.
“I think that knocked the stuffing out of us – you have to be solid and hard to break down, but we didn’t see that in the second half today.
“It’s Jekyll and Hyde stuff. The difference between the two halves was incredible really.
“You have to try and keep good teams like Watford at bay, but we gifted them opportunities.
“We have been solid this season, but definitely not today. We can’t let things like this happen. We’ve been punished big time for poor defending.
“I’ve stressed that to the players after the game and they need to take a bit more responsibility.
“Individually and collectively, we just can’t let that happen again.”
Preston continue to struggle at home and have now lost three in a row on their own patch.
They have now lost four of their last six in the Championship and were booed off at the end of the game.
Watford had only scored seven goals in nine away games before the second-half goal glut and have a poor recent record at Deepdale, having won just once on their last 16 visits.
Watford manager Valerien Ismael said: “I’m very pleased with the performance of all the players, of course.
“I’m pleased to see the understanding we’re now getting.
“The players have to learn that ruthless aspect and we saw that today.
“We created a good momentum from early in the game and we saw that focus that you need at a tough place like Preston.
“I can see the evolution after six months.
“This was a typically-tough Championship game, so we knew we’d have to be solid and be ready. It’s about being ruthless too.
“We got off to a great start in the second half and when you see shots go in like that, it gives everyone confidence and belief.
“The momentum definitely changed after half-time but credit goes to all the players because it’s given us and the fans a great feeling.
“At the moment we’ll just keep the focus on the games we have. We have a lot in the next couple of weeks running up to the new year and our job is to make sure we keep performing.
“After that, we will have a clearer picture of where we are.”