Watford gave their fans a welcome and much-needed Christmas present as their six-game run without a win ended with a battling 2-1 victory over Leicester City at Vicarage Road.

The nerves in the Hornets ranks were understandable given their run of results, but they were holding their own without offering too much of an attacking threat for the opening 30 minutes.

But after Jamie Vardy had spurned a great chance to put the Foxes in front, Riyad Mahrez did strike with a header following a cross from Marc Albrighton.

Crucially though, Watford were to not only get back on terms before half-time, but could easily have been in front after Molla Wague was in the right place to convert at the back post following a corner.

Either of side of the equaliser though, Richarlison wasted a one-on-one opportunity when he chose to try and go round Kasper Schmeichel and the Brazilian then struck a post in the last action of the first half following a move started by Stefano Okaka, who was on as a replacement for Roberto Pereyra.

What proved to be the decisive contribution came 20 minutes into the second period when Abdoulaye Doucoure got in round the back at the far post following a deep Tom Cleverley free-kick, played the ball back into the danger zone and Schmeichel could only help the ball over his own line for what was given as an own goal.

The Hornets had chances to make the margin of victory more comfortable, but ultimately needed two big saves from Heurelho Gomes to record their first win since their triumph at Newcastle United.

Marco Silva made three changes from the side that lost 1-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday – and sprung some surprises.

Doucuoure and Marvin Zeegelaar both came straight back into the starting XI following suspension and there was also a first start for Molla Wague. Sebastain Prodl, Jose Holebas and Andre Gray all dropped to the bench, while Richarlison was given a chance in the central striking role.

Having secured a last-gasp 2-2 draw at home to Manchester United, Claude Puel went one change further, although he was forced into an adjustment at right-back with Danny Simpson suspended.

His place went to Aleksandar Dragovic while Ben Chilwell, Andy King and Shinji Okazaki also came into the team as Christian Fuchs and Demari Gray dropped to the bench, but Vincente Iborra was not in the match-day 18.

The Hornets, who were turned round to kick towards the Rookery in the first half, gained something of an early boost when Harry Maguire was booked inside three minutes for taking out Richarlison.

On the flip side though, there was an early unwanted moment of alarm when Christian Kabasele was not alert to the lurking Okazaki and as Gomes threw the ball out to his teammate, the Leicester striker was quickly in and his block challenge rebounded wide of the Hornets keeper’s left-hand post.

Referee Chris Kavanagh had set out his still early on and soon equalised the card count when Ben Watson crudely ended Marc Albrighton’s run down the left beneath the Graham Taylor Stand.

And two yellow cards soon became three when Kabasele slid in on Okazaki and could have no complaints about the punishment that followed.

Perhaps understandably given their poor form the Hornets were somewhat hesitant in the opening 15 minutes, and they were a shade fortunate when an Albrighton cross from the left side of the area found Mahrez in space on the opposite side of the box in plenty of space, but his control let him down and the ball went out. Although a linesman’s flag was raised for offside, replays showed the Algerian star was level when the ball was played.

Gomes was then forced into action soon after to push an Okazaki header over the top after a nervy-looking Daryl Janmaat had given the ball away, allowing Chilwell to play in a cross from the left.

The Hornets hadn’t offered that much going forward but hopes were raised when Andre Carrillo got away from Chilwell down the right, but Maguire cut out the Peruvian’s cut back as Pereyra sought to get on the end of it.

But Leicester really should have taken the lead in the 25th minute when Albrighton’s pass set Vardy away – the England international looked to be offside but was being played on by Kabasele – and the striker dinked the ball over Gomes, but put it wide of the near post.

Watford’s response to that setback was encouraging. Having drawn a free-kick out of Wes Morgan, Tom Cleverley clipped a delivery into the box which fell for Doucoure, who saw his blocked behind. Although the Foxes spurned the chance to counter from the resulting corner, the hosts one another free-kick in a dangerous position when Dragovic became the fourth player to see yellow for hauling down Pereyra, but on this occasion the set piece came to nothing.

Wague needed to make an important intervention to prevent Wilfred Ndidi’s ball from the right side of the area from reaching Vardy, but Watford were not to escape again when Leicester created their next opportunity.

The Foxes built down the left and Janmaat, who was playing catch up when Albrighton received the ball close to the touchline, turning back out onto his right foot and playing a fine deep cross to the back post where Zeegelaar had lost Mahrez, who headed back across Gomes and into the far corner to make it 1-0.

But having fallen behind, Watford were to spurn a superb chance to level within two minutes when Carrillo laid a pass through to Richarlison, who could have hit it first time, but opted to try and go round Schmeichel, only to hit the side netting.

The Brazilian was soon to be moved back out to his more familiar wide berth when Silva made a change a minute before the break when Okaka replaced Pereyra.

Within a minute the Hornets were to be level. Following a Cleverley corner from the right, Richarlison acrobatically hooked the ball golwards, it was blocked but broke for Wague at the far post to snaffle the equaliser on his full debut.

The levels of belief visibly swelled in the Hornets’ ranks following the equaliser and they were to go very close to taking the lead when after Okaka had dropped deep to link the play, the ball was worked right to left through Carrillo and Cleverley to help put Richarlison in on the left side of the area and his attempted low finish beat Schmeichel but cannoned back off his near post.

With the belief in their ranks having grown, Watford sought to maintain their positivity into the second half, but it needed two good blocks to repel a Mahez shot and then Ndidi’s follow-up.

Okaka sent an improvised overhead effort wide after being teed up by Richarlison, but before that some uncharacteristic indecision from Doucoure had seen the ball turned over and allowed Mahrez to cross dangerously in the direction of Vardy, but the diving Gomes had been alert to the danger.

The Foxes were soon to be countering at pace again, with Mahrez finding Okazaki to his left and he tried to lay it on a plate for Vardy, but Watson got back well to put the ball behind.

Watford did have the chance to exert some pressure when they were awarded a free-kick on the left after Richarlison nutmegged Dragovic, only to be flattened by the defender’s forearm. But the hosts then tried an intricate training ground move that came to nothing.

From their next free-kick though, which was awarded for a foul on Okaka in the 65th minute, Cleverley’s delivery beyond the back post appeared to have been overhit, but Doucoure stole in round the back and turned the ball back into the danger zone, where the diving Schmeichel got a hand to it but could only help the ball over his own line to make it 2-1.

Although the referee waited for the decision of the technology before awarding the goal, replays showed the whole ball had clearly crossed the line.

Claude Puel made a double change in the 73rd minute, bringing on Demari Gray and Islam Slimani for Dragovic and Okazaki, but although Leicester were trying to ask more attacking questions their opponents were looking relatively comfortable at the back.

Indeed, that margin of comfort could have been increased when Cleverley dispossessed Chilwell and accelerated towards goal, but sent a low shot narrowly wide of the far post.

But after Puel had introduced Leonardo Ulloa as an 84th-minute replacement for King, Gomes twice needed to excel to keep his side in front.

The keeper first flung himself in the way of Wes Morgan’s attempted close-range finish after Maguire had won a far-post header from a corner, and Gomes then went full length to keep out another header from the resultant corner.

Prodl came on for Watson in the closing stages as Silva moved to shore up his defence and Jerome Sinclair was also to come on before the end in place of Carrillo after Zeegelaar was booked for time wasting.

But Watford were able to navigate three minutes of stoppage time as the final whistle was greeted by a huge roar, that was borne out of relief as much as a sense of celebration.

Watford: Gomes; Janmaat, Wague, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Watson (Prodl 87), Doucoure; Carrillo (Sinclair 90), Cleverley, Pereyra (Okaka 44); Richarlison. Subs not used: Bachmann, A Gray, Holebas, Capoue.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Dragovic (D Gray 73), Maguire, Morgan, Chilwell; Mahrez, Ndidi, King (Ullo 84), Albrighton; Okazaki (Slimani 73), Vardy. Subs not used: Hamer, James, Fuchs, Benalouane.

Bookings: Maguire for a foul on Richarlison (3); Watson for a foul on Albrighton (7); Kabasele for a foul on Okazaki (12); Dragovic for a foul on Pereyra (30); King for a foul on Richarlison (81); Zeegelaar for time wasting (88).

Attedance: 20,308.

Referee: Chris Kavanagh.