Watford bounced back from their Anfield horror show in three-point style as two early goals were enough to beat champions Leicester City 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

Walter Mazzarri called for his troops to channel the anger from that 6-1 mauling and they responded with a breath-taking opening as the Hornets went on to defeat the top-flight champions for the first time in a league game since 1986.

The match had got off to a blistering start with the Hornets making the breakthrough as Etienne Capoue swept in his fifth goal of the season after Troy Deeney had headed on a Roberto Pereyra cross.

If that was good, what happened 11 minutes later was magnificent as Pereyra stepped inside Danny Drinkwater on the left side of the penalty before curling a Goal of the Season contender into the far corner to put the Hornets two goals to the good.

But Watford were not to have a two-goal cushion for long as Miguel Britos’ clumsy challenge in the penalty area allowed Riyad Mahrez to reduce the deficit from the penalty spot.

Chances were to be fewer after the break, although Pereyra may feel he should have scored again when he directed a clear header within reach of Ron-Robert Zieler.

The game was then played the home side’s half perhaps rather too much for comfort, but Watford remained firm and were able to get back to winning ways at the first time of asking.

Mazzarri was always going to have to make one change from the 6-1 humbling at Liverpool after Jose Holebas received his fifth booking of the season, but in the end he opted for a second as Odion Ighalo paid the price for his disappointing form.

Camilo Zuniga, as many expected, took Holebas’ place at wing-back and the fit-again Sebastian Prodl returned to a defensive back three, with the Hornets boss tweaking his side’s shape further up the field as Nordin Amrabat was billed to be the player to operate behind Troy Deeney and provide a link between midfield and attack.

Despite the injury that forced him off at Anfield, the Hornets also had another fitness boost as Heurelho Gomes was able to maintain his league ever-present record between the posts.

The Foxes also lost their last game, 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion, and Claudio Ranieri made three changes to his starting XI.

In came Daniel Amartey, Marc Albrighton and, fresh from ending his scoring famine on England duty in midweek, Jamie Vardy. Ahmed Musa and Andy King dropped to the bench but Islam Slimani was ruled out with a groin problem.

It was evident from the kick off that Pereyra and Amrabat would push up where possible into an attacking 3-4-3 formation and it was the former Juventus man who won the ball back to start a move that led to the Hornets making the perfect start.

The Argentine intercepted a pass from Drinkwater, played a one-two with Deeney in midfield before bursting away down the left. He then capitalised on the feeble attempts of Mahrez and Danny Simpson to stop him, getting away to the left side of the area and crossed for Deeney to cushion a header on for Capoue, who arrived on the edge of the box to hit a controlled half-volley into the ground and beyond the dive of Zieler to make it 1-0 inside 33 seconds with his fifth of the season.

Leicester tried to respond quickly, but the Hornets backline were not overly stretched and the visitors’ defence was soon almost exposed again as Amrabat beat Christian Fuchs to get to the byline and get in a low cross which was dealt with in a less than assured fashion by the Foxes.

Pereyra was looking in the mood and that was confirmed by what he did in the 13th minute. Picking up the ball on the left and with Zuniga breaking outside him to make an overlap, the midfielder cut inside Drinkwater before hitting a stunning right-footed curler that gave Zieler no chance as it flew into the far corner to make it 2-0 in magnificent fashion.

Watford had the champions on the ropes and what they didn’t need to do was offer them an easy route back into the contest. Which is exactly what happened when Britos clumsily felled Vardy on the left side of the penalty area, referee Neil Swarbrick had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Mahrez confidently sent Gomes the wrong way to halve the deficit.

The game was only 15 minutes old at this stage and soon after Watford weren’t far away from restoring their two-goal lead when a deep Capoue corner from the left was met with a downward header from Younes Kaboul that was directed narrowly the wrong side of the far post.

Zuniga was the first player to be booked for a foul from behind on Vardy as the match continued to be anything but cagey as both sides looked to push on at every opportunity.

Leicester found themselves under more pressure just after the half-hour mark when Fuchs was penalised for pulling pull Amrabat. But as Capoue was waiting to take the free-kick, Britos was bizarrely cautioned, presumably for something he said. However, Swarbrick did not endear himself further to the home faithful when he subsequently failed to take any further action against Shinji Okazaki for a blatant body check on Capoue.

That free-kick came to nothing as Daryl Janmaat swept the ball harmlessly out of play after Capoue had played the set piece short to him, but soon after a mix-up between Robert Huth and Wes Morgan allowed Deeney to break into the area. He unselfishly tried to square to Amrabat, but the Moroccan international wasn’t able to get his feet sorted out quickly enough to capitalise from 12 yards out.

Swarbrick’s decision-making led to more bewilderment shortly before the interval when he pulled up Britos for obstruction, having tried to let the ball run across his body to a teammate but Watford were able to take their 2-1 advantage into the break.

The second half began with the Hornets still not helping themselves at time by giving the ball away, while Mahrez was perhaps fortunate not to be booked for diving when he tried to buy a free-kick from Britos.

Amartey though, did see yellow for a blatant trip on Capoue in the 53rd minute, but the home side found themselves stretched from the resultant free-kick as Leicester countered before Britos, in rather unconvincing fashion, managed to help get the ball away.

There wasn’t however, too much in the way of meaningful goalmouth action in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. But five minutes later Amrabat beat Fuchs yet again to get to the byline and laid it back for Janmaat, whose first-time cross picked out Pereyra and he put a clear header in exactly the spot where the diving Zieler was able to punch it off his line.

Drinkwater was cautioned for a foul on Valon Behrami before Kaboul met a corner from the left with a good header but he was unable to direct it on target.

Claudio Ranieri decided he’d seen enough by the 68th minute and made a double change with Jeff Schlupp replacing Fuchs and Demari Gray coming on for Okazaki.

Watford were generally in control of proceedings at this stage, although their opponents did force a string of corners as the game entered the final 15 minutes.

Musa came on for Albrighton with 12 minutes of normal time remaining and moments later Watford had to put their bodies on the line to block a couple of shots as the Foxes continued to crank up the pressure.

Gray was the next to see yellow for throwing the ball down in frustration when a decision went against him before the Hornets could have made the game safe when Amrabat laid the ball off to the on-rushing Janmaat, but he hit a rising drive over from the edge of the area.

Adlene Guedioura replaced Amrabat with four minutes to go but while it wasn’t real backs to the wall stuff at this late stage, the Hornets were increasingly struggling to get out of their own half.

Deeney also made way for Stefano Okaka before the end as the fourth official offered Leicester further hopes by signalling a minimum of five minutes additional time.

The game continued to be mostly played in and around the Hornets penalty area in those extra minutes but the hosts remained resolute and were able to see the job through.

Watford: Gomes; Kaboul, Prodl, Britos; Janmaat, Amrabat (Guediora 86), Capoue, Behrami, Zuniga; Pereyra; Deeney (Okaka 90). Not used: Pantilimon, Mariappa, Sinclair, Watson, Ighalo.

Leicester City: Zieler; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs (Schlupp 68); Mahrez, Drinkwater, Amartey, Albrighton (Musa 78); Okazaki (Gray 68); Vardy. Not used: Hamer, Hernandez, King, Wasilewski.

Boookings: Zuniga for a foul on Vardy (21); Britos for dissent (32); Amartey for a foul on Capoue (53); Drinkwater for a foul on Behrami (65); Gray for dissent (81).

Attendance: 20,640 (2,122 away fans).

Referee: Neil Swarbrick.