One of the goals of the season saw Watford’s three-match winning run at Vicarage Road come to an end as Liverpool boosted their Champions League hopes with a 1-0 victory tonight, although they were very nearly denied at the death.

Apart from a superb volley from substitute Adam Lallana that struck the crossbar, Watford’s containing approach had done its job until it was undone in sensational fashion by a magnificent Emre Can overhead kick in first-half injury-time.

Despite trailing, the Hornets continued with the same approach for the first part of the second half, to the frustration of some fans.

But the entrance of Isaac Success with 17 minutes remaining signalled a change of emphasis as the Hornets went in search of an equaliser.

They didn’t get that close, in truth, and their opponents had the better chances to make the game safe until deep into injury time when the Hornets tried one last attack following a throw and the ball sat up invitingly for Sebastian Prodl, who crashed a half-volley off the bar.

Despite the poor display in the 2-0 defeat at Hull City, Walter Mazzarri decided to make just the one change and that was enforced as Adrian Mariappa returned in place of Jose Holebas, who was ruled out with a foot injury. There was also a change in formation as Watford switched to 3-5-2.

Champions League-chasing Liverpool were also beaten in their previous outing, 2-1 at home by Crystal Palace, but Jurgen Klopp decided to keep faith with the same starting XI. There were a couple of significant names on the visitors’ bench though, with Lallana and Daniel Sturridge available again after their respective injury problems.

The Hornets set themselves up to be compact, playing with five at the back in the opening stages, as the visitors had the first semblance of a chance when Can rather got under his attempted header on the left side of the six-yard box as he met a free-kick and the attempt went over Heurelho Gomes’ bar.

The home side had their first opening when Tom Cleverley intercepted a loose pass from Lucas Leiva and fed Troy Deeney as the move developed at pace. The skipper then passed to his right where M’Baye Niang opted to come inside and go it alone, hitting a left-footed shot which Simon Mignolet saved comfortably.

With Phillippe Coutinho struggling to run off the effects of a thigh injury he had sustained in the opening minutes, the hosts were looking confident early on as they sought to knock the ball into feet in the opposition half.

Klopp gave Countinho a reasonable length of time to try and recover, but the change was made in the 13th minute as Lallana returned from his month-long spell on the sidelines.

Three minutes later came another attractive and incisive move from the hosts as they built swiftly out from the back before Nordin Amrabat switched play cross-field from right to left to Deeney; he played a quick one-two with Cleverley before taking aim from the left angle of the 18-yard box but the venom was taken off the shot by a block.

As that happened though, Miguel Britos had gone to ground in his own half with a problem with his left leg. Medical assistance was quickly forthcoming but the Hornets centre-half was unable to continue and made way for Christian Kabasele in the 19th minute.

Gomes was extended for the first time soon after, plunging to his left to divert away a well-struck 30-yard left-footed strike from Can after Lallana had ventured in field from the right to pass.

Liverpool continued to have the majority of the play for the next ten minutes but the Hornets were working well, keeping their shape and preventing their opponents from getting into dangerous positions.

Attacking opportunities had been limited for the home side, but Niang did force their first corner in the 33rd minute which ended with Abdoulaye Doucoure seeing a drive from outside the area blocked after Cleverley’s delivery from the left had been headed away.

Watford’s containing exercise continued to do what it was set out to do but in the 40th minute Liverpool almost took a stunning lead.

After a corner from the right had been punched clear by Gomes, Lallana met the dropping ball with a superb left-foot volley from fully 25 yards which went over the Hornets keeper but rebounded to safety off his bar.

Lucas was the first player to be booked in the 43rd minute for a blatant dive on the right side of the 18-yard box, with Cleverley letting his midfield counterpart know in no uncertain terms what he thought of his actions.

The Hornets looked like they would successfully get through to half-time but in the second minute of injury time they were undone by a moment of brilliance.

The goal originated from a throw-in on the right, the ball was worked back and infield to Lucas, who clipped it forward into the penalty area where Can took off and struck a magnificent right-footed overhead kick inside the right-hand post as the helpless Gomes could only stand and admire.

Amrabat was the closest Watford player to Can and perhaps helped make the Liverpool midfielder's mind up to attempt the unexpected by not getting tighter to him.

The card count was evened up within three minutes of the restart when Prodl saw yellow for a foul on Roberto Firmino on the left edge of the penalty area. James Milner struck the resulting free-kick well enough but Gomes got down to punch it away.

Liverpool had started the second half firmly on the front foot and Gomes was called into action again in the 53rd minute to push behind Divock Origi’s curling right-footed strike from 20 yards.

Origi had a better chance soon after when Nathaniel Clyne’s ball over the top put the striker in on goal, but his attempted finish lacked conviction and Gomes was able to save.

The Hornets had offered very little as an attacking force after the break, but in the 65th minute Daryl Janmaat did get free down the left and sent over a good cross but again Mignolet wasn’t overly extended.

But that seemed to have changed four minutes later when it looked like the Liverpool keeper had tipped over an Etienne Capoue piledriver from the edge of the area after the Hornets, for once, had got numbers in the box and been able to exert some pressure. Referee Craig Pawson decided otherwise though, and to add insult to injury for the Frenchman booked him for overly protesting.

That was to be Capoue’s last meaningful involvement as he was replaced by Success in the 73rd minute as the Hornets switched to a 5-3-2 come 3-4-3 when attacking.

Watford were increasingly becoming more bold, which brings with it a risk and in the 75th minute they were very nearly caught on the counter following a corner and after Janmaat had seen a scuffed shot blocked but Amrabat got back just in time to nick the ball away from Lallana in the penalty area.

The Hornets continued to push though, and Mignolet was forced into a save again when he had to scramble across goal to keep out a low Janmaat curler from outside the 18-yard box.

Both sides made an offensive change with six minutes of normal time remaining as Sturridge replaced Origi, while the Hornets’ last throw of the dice saw Stefano Okaka come on for Amrabat. Klopp then completed the changes by replacing a substitute as Lallana made way for Ragnar Klavan.

The Reds got in behind their opponents in the 88th minute when Georginio Wijnaldum slid the ball down the left side of the defence to Joel Matip, who had ventured forward, but he was foiled by Gomes at the near post.

The Hornets keeper then produced an even better stop to thwart Sturridge, who dispossessed Prodl before accelerating through the heart of the Hornets defence to go through one-on-one with the keeper.

The home side’s chances looked to be over but in the fourth minute of injury time they came within inches of a dramatic equaliser.

Following a throw on the right, Cleverley lifted the ball towards the edge of the penalty area, Janmaat took a swing, didn’t make a clear contact but the ball sat up invitingly for Prodl. The defender had to take it first time on the half volley, caught it cleanly and his effort crashed off the bar with Mignolet beaten.

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Prodl, Britos (Kabasele 19); Amrabat (Okaka 84), Capoue (Success 73), Doucoure, Cleverley, Janmaat; Deeney, Niang. Not used: Pantilimon, Behrami, Zuniga, Eleftheriou.

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Can, Lucas, Wijnaldum; Firmino, Origi (Sturridge 84), Countinho (Lallana 13, Klavan 86)). Not used: Karius, Sturridge, Grujic, Moreno, Alexander-Arnold.

Bookings: Lucas for simulation (43); Prodl for a foul on Firmino (48); Capoue for dissent (69); Success for a foul on Sturridge (90).

Referee: Craig Pawson.