Vicarage Road has once again proved to be a happy hunting ground for Stoke City as they won in Hertfordshire for the third successive year, this time 1-0 at Watford.

The game was ultimately settled by an early goal off the training ground for the visitors as Darren Fletcher volleyed in a Xherdan Shaqiri corner from the edge of the area.

The Hornets were poor in the first half as they struggled against a Potters side deploying a familiar approach of getting their men behind the ball in an organised fashion, backing themselves to withstand whatever their opponents could throw at them and looking to utilise the counter attack where possible.

That didn’t change after the break as Marco Silva’s men increasingly dominated as they repeatedly knocked on the door, but as with Chelsea the previous weekend, it was their inability to convert chances that was to cost them; Richarlison again spurning the best before the contest ended in a bad tempered manner.

The Hornets boss was always going to have to make one change from the starting XI that impressed in defeat at Stamford Bridge as a result of Roberto Pereyra’s hamstring injury, but in the end opted for a second as he reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Adrian Mariappa was the centre-half to miss out, as Andre Carrillo returned to the right flank and Etienne Capoue came into the centre of the park.

Only goal difference was keeping Stoke out of the bottom three at the start of play and Mark Hughes made three changes from the team that went down 2-1 to Bournemouth last time out.

Tom Edwards and Jese were relegated to the bench, while Geoff Cameron missed out altogether, and their places were taken by Kevin Wimmer, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ramadan Sobhi.

The Hornets started confidently and were quickly bossing possession against a Potters side lining up in a 5-4-1 shape when they were on the defensive and not doing a great deal to stop their opponents having the ball.

It took a good defensive header from Kurt Zouma to prevent a deep Tom Cleverley free-kick from the right presenting Miguel Britos with a clear chance at the far post, but prior to that the signs were initially positive in terms of Watford trying to get joy down both flanks.

The home side continued to control the contest without being able to create an opening, only to be undone by a well-executed training ground move in the 16th minute from the first corner of the afternoon.

Watford should have been alert to the threat when Shaqiri pulled his delivery from the right back to the edge of the penalty area where Fletcher met it with a cushioned right-footed volley that took a slight deflection off Troy Deeney which, if anything, took it closer to Heurelho Gomes, but the diving goalkeeper was unable to keep the ball out as the Potters took the lead.

That goal knocked Silva’s men for a spell, before they started to regain the upper hand in terms of territory and possession without being able to threaten Jack Butland’s goal, with both Richarlison and Jose Holebas seeing threatening crosses come to nothing.

Watford thought they had a chance in the 37th minute when a Holebas corner from the left was headed towards the far post by Britos and Capoue flicked it behind, but the assistant’s flag was already raised for offside.

Stuart Burt’s flag was raised again soon after but Cleverley’s deep ball that Deeney didn’t get a good enough touch on offered some encouragement for the hosts.

But the positive pointers had been, in the main, few and far between in a first half that had seen the Hornets lack the craft and guile, or play at a high enough tempo for long enough, to offer a sustained threat against a typically robust Potters approach.

The Hornets’ first attack at the start of the second half was better; a good pass from Abdoulaye Doucuoure putting Kiko Femenia in behind the Stoke defence and Deeney tried to turn his low centre towards the near post on target, but Ryan Shawcross got across to block behind.

The Spaniard was to get in behind again in the 53rd minute, this time from a Carrillo pass, but again Shawcross sensed the danger and snuffed it out.

Watford’s next threat came from the opposite flank; a Holebas cross flicked on by Deeney but the ball ran away from Capoue, who was increasingly pushing up in support of the Hornets skipper.

The home side’s threat was increasing and their next chance was to be the best to date; a superb delivery from Holebas picking out Carrillo, who stole in around the back of the Stoke defence to find space at the back post and headed back across the six-yard box but the angle was too acute for Richarlison, who hit the side netting.

Femenia was the first player to be booked for holding back Joe Allen and Silva used the stoppage in play to make his first change, with Andre Gray replacing Capoue.

Watford were pushing for the equaliser but they were to survive a let off when Shaqiri fed Sobhi, who got in round the back of the defence and he pulled the ball back to the unmarked Allen, who pulled his shot wide of the far post.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting picked up a senseless yellow card for throwing the ball away, but in the 66th minute Richarlison spurned a great chance to equalise.

Following a whipped-in Holebas free-kick from the left, a partial clearance was latched onto by Cleverley, he fed Britos to swing the ball back into the danger zone from the right and the Brazilian got clear of his man at the far post but headed down and wide from six yards out.

Gray cracked a half-volley wide as the Hornets continued to push for the equaliser, while their opponents were not against slowing the game down at every possible opportunity.

Hughes made his first change with 13 minutes of normal time remaining as Sobhi made way for Saido Berahino and then Will Hughes came on for his Premier League debut in place of Carrillo. In between times though, Shawcross had again been the Stoke man to avert the danger when he blocked a Doucuoure shot over the top.

Gomes was forced into a rare save to hold a shot from distance but it was Berahino who was to miss the chance to make the points safe for the visitors when he was found in space by Shaqiri, but was unable to squeeze a shot past Gomes from the edge of the area and, much to the visiting fans’ annoyance, Michael Oliver didn’t award a corner.

The referee had another decision to make when a touchline flare-up happened after Doucuore caught Mame Biram Diouf with a high boot, with Holebas, in particular, taking particular exception to what happened. But after surveying the pushing and shoving and taking his time, Oliver decided a yellow card for the two players initially involved was enough.

When that had settled down, Charlie Adam replaced Shaqiri and five minutes of injury time afforded the hosts further hope. But tempers were to boil over again between Deeney and Allen, but again Oliver felt a yellow card was sufficient.

The Hornets continued to push to the end, with Gray seeing a shot on the turn blocked, but Stoke really should have scored a second when Adam found himself one-on-one with Gomes some 35 yards out. The Potters substitute got the ball past the Watford keeper and knocked the ball towards the unguarded goal, only to watch it rebound out off the far post.

Watford: Gomes; Femenia, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Doucoure, Capoue (Gray 58); Carrillo (Hughes 80), Cleverley, Richarlison; Deeney. Subs not used: Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Zeegelaar, Watson.

Stoke City: Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri (Adam 88), Sobhi (Berahino 77); Choupo-Moting. Subs not used: Grant, Jese, Afellay, Ngoy, Edwards.

Bookings: Femenia for a foul on Allen (58); Choupo-Moting for dissent (62); Richarlison for a foul on Diouf (77); Shaqiri for dissent (85); Doucuoure for a scuffle with Diouf (88); Diouf for a scuffle with Douccoure (88); Allen for a scuffle with Deeney (90); Deeney for a scuffle with Allen (90).

Attendance: 20,087 (1,741 away fans).

Referee: Michael Oliver.