Watford’s hopes of recording a third successive home win and, perhaps only for a few hours, of moving up to sixth in the Premier League were ended as a disjointed and disappointing display saw them beaten 1-0 by Stoke City at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets were ultimately undone by a Heurelho Gomes own goal, coming after a Charlie Adam header in the first half had hit the post and rebounded in off the goalkeeper, but the home side struggled to get going from the outset.

Adam always looked in control at the base of the Stoke midfield and with Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri offering plenty of movement ahead of him, the visitors got control of the centre of the park from the early stages. Their opponents didn’t help themselves though, frequently guilty of giving the ball away cheaply, and as they tried to get back into the game after going behind they too often played into the Potters’ hands by trying hopeful balls down the middle.

Stoke could have made the game safe early in the second half, but having failed to do so they seemed increasingly content to back themselves to defend the one-goal lead and challenge the Hornets to break them down. It was a challenge Walter Mazzarri’s men were unable to rise to because although they had increasing amount of the ball as the second half progressed, they lacked the inspiration and invention to break through the visitors’ ranks with their attacks lacking any real fluency and pace.

To make matters worse for the hosts, they lost Younes Kaboul to a first-half injury while Miguel Britos and Valon Behrami are now ruled out of next weekend’s trip to West Bromwich Albion after both picked up a fifth booking of the season, the former being sent off for a second yellow card late on.

With Kaboul deemed fit to play having been an injury doubt, Mazzarri made just the one expected change from the team that beat Leicester City last weekend with Jose Holebas returning from suspension in place of Camilo Zuniga, who dropped to the bench.

Mark Hughes knew he’d be without the suspended Joe Allen and injured Phil Bardsley in the build-up to the game but the Stoke boss also had to do without Ryan Shawcross as he made a total of five changes from the side that lost 1-0 at home to Bournemouth as Bojan and Wilfried Bony dropped to the bench.

In came Glenn Johnson and Marc Muniesa into defence, Giannelli Imbula for his first appearance since September, Potters match-day skipper Jonathan Walters and sole forward Mame Biram Diouf.

The Hornets looked to make another quick start, pressing from the front and being quick into the challenge, but the game got off to a stop-start beginning and was punctuated by some early free-kicks for both sides.

There was an early stoppage after Holebas was injured in a challenge with Imbula but the Watford wing-back was soon able to rejoin the fray following treatment.

But it was the visitors who were to have the first chance in the seventh minute when a Shaqiri free-kick from the left was flicked on beyond the far post where Diouf acrobatically played it back into the danger zone with an overhead kick and the ball broke for Adam, who saw his strike from eight yards parried by Gomes. The ball then ran for Shaqiri but his scuffed follow-up was punched away by the Hornets keeper.

Stoke had settled the better of the two sides but the hosts soon had their first opening when Daryl Janmaat intercepted Johnson’s cross-field pass and burst forward before hitting a low left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area which Lee Grant had to dive to his right to hold onto.

The Potters were clearly up for the game though, and soon after Arnautovic played Diouf in behind Holebas on the right and the Stoke front man delivered a dangerous low cross which evaded everyone as it flashed across the 18-yard box.

Stoke’s next opening came just as the clock ticked past the 15-minute mark when following some neat midfield passing, Shaqiri laid the ball off to Imbula and the Frenchman hit a fine left-footed strike from 25 yards that didn’t go too far wide of the beaten Gomes’ left-hand post.

Watford responded with Roberto Pereyra starting an attack that led to Nordim Amrabat coming in off the left flank to find Etienne Capoue and the midfielder hit a good effort from 20 yards that Grant grasped at the second attempt.

Following that effort though, Kaboul, who had been a doubt beforehand, sat down on the halfway line and it was quickly evident he would be able to take no further part in the game. The home side did play on for a couple of minutes with 10 men before Christian Kabasele came on as a replacement.

Amrabat was the first player to be booked in the 24th minute for over protesting at the assistant referee when a free-kick was awarded against him following a tangle with Muniesa.

Pereyra tried a repeat of his goal against Leicester moments later, but this time was unable to keep his curled effort from the left side of the penalty area down.

One yellow card for Watford became two in very little when Britos was also cautioned for speaking out of turn, meaning he will miss next weekend’s trip to the Baggies following his fifth booking of the season.

The Hornets’ irritation at Bobby Madley’s decision making continued to escalate but things were to take a signinficant turn for the worse for the hosts in the 29th minute when Shaqiri swung in a corner from the right and Adam was able to get in front of Kabasele and send in a header which hit the right-hand post, bounced sideways and struck Gomes before rebounding into the net to give Stoke a 1-0 lead.

Having been second best for much of the first half, the Hornets did try and respond positively to going behind and had a reasonable spell around the Potters’ box, but the best the hosts could muster was a Sebastian Prodl header over the top from a Janmaat cross.

Another card was to come Watford’s way when Holebas saw yellow for kicking the ball away after Stoke had been awarded a corner that looked less than clear-cut.

The home side continued to try and force their way back into the game before the break but many of their efforts were down the middle of the pitch and simply played into the hands of the organised Stoke ranks.

Watford tried to make a positive start to the second period but they were fortunate to escape going two down within 90 seconds off the restart when Imbula launched a counter-attack which saw Arnautovic advance at least 50 yards unhindered down the left before he sought to pick out the unmarked Walters in front of goal, only to play the ball just too far ahead of him.

Watford were stretched again when some fine play by Adam took him away from Capoue and Behrami on halfway before he picked out Arnautovic on the edge of the area and the Austrian international checked back on his right foot before seeing a well-struck blocked.

Mazzarri decided to change things after 56 minutes, bringing on Odion Ighalo for Holebas, with Janmaat switching to the left flank.

That change was made as Stoke were preparing to take a free-kick and from Shaqiri’s delivery from the left, Walters found space towards the near post but headed over.

Madley’s questionable decision making continued when Shaqiri escaped a yellow card when he fouled Pereyra having made no attempt to play the ball, but the visitors continued to be largely in control of proceedings.

Watford were having more of the ball as the game entered the last 20 minutes, but were lacking the necessary inspiration or invention to try and create too much in the final third.

With 15 minutes to go though, Janmaat did play in a good cross from the left which Ighalo got a flick to, but as with so much else that had gone before from the perspective of the home side, a brief moment of promise came to nothing.

The Hornets then had to defend a dangerous situation when Shaqiri was awarded a free-kick in a central position 25 yards out, but the Swiss was unable to get his set piece over the wall.

Mazzarri made his final change, bringing on Stefano Okaka for Amrabat, before Janmaat had an opportunity when the ball sat up nicely for him 20 yards out, but he screwed his half-volley wide.

Hughes introduced Peter Crouch in place of Arnautovic for the closing stages but while the Hornets were not playing well, they kept plugging away and had another opening when Deeney flicked on a ball forward to Ighalo. The substitute got his acrobatic attempt wrong, but the ball broke for Okaka at the far post, but he mishit an angled effort wide.

Soon after, Janmaat stood up a ball from the left and Deeney attacked it at full tilt, but was unable to direct his header near the target.

A rather forgettable afternoon for the Hornets was then compounded in the last minute of normal time when Britos blatantly pulled back Shaqiri, who wasn’t really going anywhere, and gave Madley no option but to show a second yellow card.

Walters fired wide from distance moments later but then Behrami, who was also on four yellow cards heading into the match, also ruled himself out of a trip to the Hawthorns when he was booked for pulling back Shaqiri.

Imbula did come close to adding a second in injury time when he curled a shot onto the roof of the net, but while many Watford fans chose to direct their frustration at the officials at the final whistle, Madley and the assistants were not the reason the Hornets lost.

Watford: Gomes; Kaboul (Kabasele 21), Prodl, Britos; Janmaat, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas (Ighalo 56); Amrabat (Okaka 78), Deeney, Pereyra. Not used: Pantilimon, Mariappa, Guedioura, Zuniga.

Stoke City: Grant; Johnson, M Indi, Muniesa, Pieters; Imbula, Adam; Walters, Shaqiri, Arnautovic (Crouch 82); Diouf. Not used: Given, Bony, Bojan, Sobhi, Ngoy, Verlinden.

Booking: Amrabat for dissent (24); Britos for dissent (27); Holebas for dissent (40); Britos for a foul on Shaqiri – sent off (90); Behrami for a foul on Shaqiri (90).

Attendance: 20,058 (1,330 away fans).

Referee: Bobby Madley.