Watford were to finish the game with three strikers on the pitch but it was still not enough to prevent their dreadful run of league form continuing as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Leicester City.

The Hornets’ performance was in many respects better than has sometimes been the case of late; their attitude and application was certainly a marked improvement than for much of the first half against Southampton the week previously for example.

But the visitors lacked quality and belief in the final third – an Andre Gray one-on-one was the closest they came to scoring – and too often balls into the box were to be hit with hope rather than conviction.

There was always the fear Marco Silva’s men would suffer an eighth top-flight defeat in 11 outings – a run that has yielded just five points – from the moment Molla Wague brought down Jamie Vardy with a clumsy challenge and the England striker duly capitalised from 12 yards. And so it proved.

The Watford boss did switch to 4-4-2, and then 3-4-3 for the last 15 minutes after bringing on Stefano Okaka, but the latter was a move that smacked of increasing desperation and the Foxes had chances to capitalise on the extra attacking space they were afforded before Riayd Mahrez added the late second.

The Hornets boss made three changes to the team which battled back to draw 2-2 at home to Southampton last time out, two of which were enforced.

Tom Cleverley failed to shake off the hamstring problem which forced him off in the first half, but the Hornets boss also had to contend with the loss of Heurelho Gomes with a back spasm, meaning the keeper’s run of 127 consecutive league appearances came to an end.

Orestis Karnezis came in for his full debut between the posts, Roberto Pereyra was promoted from the bench, while the other alteration saw Troy Deeney replace Ande Gray. Jose Holebas was also ruled out due to being unwell.

Claude Puel made a number of changes for the midweek FA Cup third round replay victory over Fleetwood Town, but he named an unchanged line-up from last weekend’s goalless draw at Chelsea.

Potentially significantly though, striker Islam Slimani, who has been consistently linked with a move to the Hornets, was not named in the Foxes’ match-day 18.

The visitors started on the front foot, winning a corner inside the opening 20 seconds. Pereyra’s delivery from the left was cleared only as far as Ben Watson, who played it back to his teammate and the former Juventus man weighed up his options before crossing to the far post where Harry Maguire needed to get up to prevent Christian Kabasele having a clear header.

That led to another set-piece from the right, which ended with Andre Carrillo firing over, and soon after Watford were to win a third corner inside the opening three minutes. This was easily claimed by Kasper Schmeichel but the visitors’ start had been encouraging.

But it was the Dane’s opposite number who was the first keeper to be tested in the sixth minute and he stood up to the challenge well.

The problems originated from a Shinji Okazaki ball over the top, Jamie Vardy shook off Wague too easily and came inside on his right foot before hitting a firmly-struck shot which the Greek international parried well, but Okazaki, following up, was unable to readjust his body position quickly enough to direct his header on target.

The Hornets were to survive another close call soon after when a free-kick from the left was played dangerously into the box, Maguire headed back into the danger zone but Richarlison showed good defensive qualities to prevent Wilfred Ndidi getting on the end of it.

The game then settled down after a frenetic opening, with the Foxes shading the exchanges, but in the 18th minute Schmeichel was forced to drop to his left to hold an Abdoulaye Doucoure shot after a good spell of attacking pressure which had also seen a goal-bound Pereyra header cleared by Maguire.

Schmeichel was able to make a routine save when Deeney didn’t get hold of a shot properly but again the signs were promising as a combination of Pereyra and Marvin Zeegelaar dispossessed Mahrez from a short corner before launching an attack.

The Foxes were continuing to have the better of territory and possession and they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position on the right side of the area when Kabasele was adjudged to have blocked Vardy off the ball. But Mahrez’s delivery ultimately resulted in no more than catching practice for Karnezis.

The Hornets briefly thought they had taken the lead in the 34th minute when Deeney controlled a Kabasele knock down on his thigh before clipping a low finish past Schmeichel and into the far corner, but the linesman’s flag quickly curtailed any celebrations.

Instead of being in front, the visitors were to find themselves behind within five minutes after the ball had played into Vardy in the area and Wague slid in with a challenge across the striker, clearly bringing down the England man.

The assistant instantly flagged for a penalty, referee Lee Probert agreed and Vardy comfortably sent Karnezis the wrong way from 12 yards to make it 1-0; an advantage the hosts were to retain until the break.

Leicester were to have the first opening of the second half when Vardy capitalised on defensive hesitancy to break into the inside left channel before pulling the ball back, but Okazaki didn’t really get hold of his shot and Karnezis was able to save with relative comfort.

The Hornets were almost the architects of their own downfall in the 57th minute when Kabasele gave the ball away to Mahrez, who instantly sent Vardy away but the Belgian international got back just enough to knock his opponent off balance and concede a corner.

Silva’s men hadn’t got started after the break and they were opened up again when Ben Chilwell streaked down the left and sent in a low cross which the covering Zeegelaar managed to clear with Vardy lurking at the back post, The Hornets boss was already preparing to bring on Andre Gray and the forward was to enter the fray on the hour mark in place of Pereyra. Before play could restart though, Wague was also forced off through injury and his place was taken by Sebastian Prodl.

Peul made his first change four minutes later as Okazaki made way for Demari Gray, but Deeney and Andre Gray were soon to link up to positive effect with the former setting up the latter for a snap-shot which Schmeichel held at his near post.

There was an anxious moment for the visitors soon after though, when Mahrez went down under the challenge of Doucoure in the box but referee Probert decided nothing untoward had happened.

But the Hornets were playing a risky game to try and get back into the match and they were nearly undone when Mahrez slipped in Vardy, who burst through but saw his finish superbly tipped onto the post by Karnezis. Although the flag then went up for offside, replays showed Vardy was level with Daryl Janmaat.

The visitors’ best chance of getting back on terms was to come in the 74th minute when Deeney lifted the ball over the defence to set Andre Gray away. Although Maguire got back very well to make the block, the Hornets substitute arguably waited a fraction too long before attempting his finish.

Watford kept pushing with an off-balance Deeney heading over a Watson corner before Silva played his final hand, bringing on Stefano Okaka for Janmaat and switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

If anything though, the change worked against the visitors as Leicester had plenty of the ball in the final third and went close to adding a second when Demari Gray forced Karnezis to plunge to his left to save.

Adrien Silva replaced Vardy for the closing stages, but a second goal had been coming and Mahrez was to score it in the first minute of stoppage time.

After Okaka had been dispossessed in midfield, the Algerian scampered away and beat Kabasele before confidently lifting the ball beyond Karnezis to make sure of the points.

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Amartey, Dragovic, Maguire, Chilwell; Mahrez, Ndidi, James, Albrighton; Okazaki (D Gray 64); Vardy (A Silva 89). Subs not used: Hamer, Iheanacho, Fuchs, Benalouane, Diabate.

Watford: Karnezis; Janmaat (Okaka 81), Wague (Prodl 60), Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucoure, Watson; Carrillo; Pereyra (A Gray 60), Richarlison; Deeney. Subs not used: Bachmann, Mariappa, Sinclair, Capoue.

Bookings: None.

Attendance: 31,891.

Referee: Lee Probert.