A late Ismaila Sarr goal gave Watford their first win in four matches as they beat Stoke City 3-2 at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets looked like they were going to have to settle for another draw from a winning position after Nick Powell's equaliser had cancelled out a lead gained through a Joao Pedro penalty, which followed Steven Fletcher’s early opener and a controversial own-goal by Angus Gunn.

However Sarr's stoppage time effort gave them a valuable three points in their quest for promotion, lifting them up to fourth in the table.

Despite calls for changes from supporters, a stubborn Vladimir Ivic deployed the same formation that failed to pick up wins against Bournemouth, Wycome and Barnsley, with Christian Kabasele’s return to the starting XI his only alteration. William Troost-Ekong was moved to the bench to accommodate the Belgian.

Alongside Troost-Ekong on the bench was Troy Deeney, featuring in Ivic’s squad for only the second time this season after struggling with knee problems.

The rest of the team had problems of their own just 90 seconds into the match when a swift corner routine resulted in John Obi-Mikel slipping the ball into the feet of Powell, who crossed to the feet of Fletcher, lurking on the six yard line to give the Potters an early advantage.

Watford again looked uncomfortable when trying to implement Ivic’s philosophy of building from the back and they almost gifted the visitors another clear sight of goal with some erratic possession around their own 18-yard-box.

First Ben Wilmot’s wild backpass had to be headed away by Ben Foster before Wilmot again conceded possession cheaply with a stray pass that would have seen Fletcher and Powell combine again, but for Kabasele’s intervention.

Going forward, the Hornets offered little, with Pedro starved of direct service and Sarr struggling to get involved down the right. Kiko Femenia looked the most likely source of creativity, not for the first time this season, but his crosses were for the most part comfortably dealt with.

However, an equaliser did come via that route just before the half-hour mark, albeit through rather fortuitous and not altogether ethical circumstances.

Sarr’s cross from the right was headed away by Morgan Fox to the feet of Cleverley whose fierce effort crashed off the underside of the bar. Gunn scooped up the loose possession before Pedro clattered into him, forcing the ball over the line and causing referee Andy Davies’ watch to vibrate, signalling that the ball had in fact gone in.

The official had clearly missed the Brazilian striker’s barge and awarded the goal, despite his fourth official, James Linington, trying to explain the mistake. An own goal by Gunn was awarded in the end.

Regardless of how morally questionable it was, the equaliser gave Watford a renewed sense of purpose and they almost took the lead moments after, with Stoke still visibly irked.

Sarr beat the offside trap to latch onto a pass from Cleverley but fluffed his lines after getting into the penalty area. Nathaniel Chalobah was next to try his luck with a shot from distance, but he guided the ball just wide of Gunn’s far post with his instep.

A final chance of the half once again came down the right-hand side with Femenia crossing for Sarr in the centre, but the Senegalese winger was unable to meet the ball with his head.  

The second-half began with a noticeable lack of quality, with moments of interest a real rarity.

Fletcher’s header on the end of a Tommy Smith cross from the right was as exciting as it got in the first 15 minutes of the half, but it was not an effort worthy of featuring on the highlights reels on Foster’s Youtube channel.

Such a dearth of creativity meant a mistake was the only likely source of excitement and one duly came from a lapse in concentration from Potters’ defender Danny Batth. He swung his leg lazily at the ball causing it to ricochet kindly into the path of Sarr, who tried to round Gunn only to be tripped in the box by the keeper. Pedro stepped up and steered the ball into the bottom corner to put Watford ahead.

Substitute Andre Gray almost added a third when he rose highest to meet Femenia’s delivery, but he could only nod the ball wide of the far post and it was a miss Watford were almost made to regret when Powell slipped the ball into the bottom corner from a pull back with ten minutes of normal time remaining.

However Sarr pulled off the same trick from Ken Sema's pass as the game moved into added time, giving the Hornets their first win in four matches.