There was plenty of head-scratching among Watford players and fans alike after the Hornets dominated their clash with Blackburn Rovers but ended up empty-handed as the visitors snatched a 1-0 victory at Vicarage Road.

While it would be unfair to describe the Hornets’ second straight defeat as a smash-and-grab raid for their opponents, the fact the Hornets had 24 goal attempts to the visitors’ five would suggest they did enough to at least secure a point. But of those just four were on target and goalkeeper Aynsley Pears was only forced into two saves of note, meaning it is now three-and-a-half league games since the Hornets last found the back of the net.

The one player who did manage to achieve that was Ryan Hedges, scoring what proved to be the winner with 18 minutes of normal time remaining when he fired home from an acute angle inside Daniel Bachmann’s near post.

Rovers had shown enough previously to suggest they could capitalise on the break if Watford were found defensively wanting – and they duly did – but for the most part they remained disciplined, organised and defensively resolute as Watford spent plenty of the game knocking at the door but without finding the right key.

Matheus Martins went the closest, hitting one superb first-half effort against the bar, while another shot after the break was turned onto the woodwork as Valerien Ismael used several attacking options without any paying off.

These included a second-half debut for new striker Mileta Rajovic, but aside from one dart in behind and a couple of wayward shots he found it a tough Championship baptism.

Ismael made three changes to the starting XI that performed disappointingly in the 1-0 defeat at Stoke City last week.

Yaser Asprilla, Edo Kayembe and Ismael Kone all made their first league starts of the season. They replaced Jake Livermore, Imran Louza, amid claims he had been late for training, and James Morris, who wasn’t deemed fit enough to start after coming off injured at the end of the first half at the bet365 Stadium. New signing Rajovic was also among the replacements.

Blackburn also came into the game with four points from their opening three fixtures and Jon Dahl Tomasson made just the one enforced change from the 2-1 defeat at home to Hull City, with Callum Brittain replacing the suspended Harry Pickering.

The Hornets started much better than last week’s defeat and it soon became evident Rovers were prepared to drop off and get numbers behind the ball, challenging their opponents to try and break them down.

Wesley Hoedt’s range of passing was again a feature of his side’s play in the early stages which saw the hosts win three corners in the opening ten minutes, but none had the quality to lead to Pears’ goal being threatened.

The visitors responded by earning their first two corners of the contest, the first coming after Hoedt ill-advisably decided to dummy the ball in his own 18-yard box.

It took until the 20th minute for the first chance to arrive and Bachmann needed to make a good save to keep the game scoreless, falling low to his left to keep out Sammie Szmodics’ low drive.

Pears was soon called into action at the other end though, keeping out Martins’ attempted right-footed finish after Tom Dele-Bashiru had stayed strong in a challenge to win the ball and set up the Brazilian in the area.

Hoedt was the first player booked for a foul on Hedges in the 24th minute, but from the resultant free-kick the Hornets countered and were almost in; Vakoun Bayo winning the ball back in his own half and releasing Asprilla on the attack before continuing his run, but the Colombian’s pass infield was too far ahead of his teammate.

The game was opening up and Watford were starting to up the ante; Martins inches away from giving his side the lead in fantastic fashion in the 29th minute when he stepped inside on the edge of the area and hit a cracking angled right-footed curler which smacked off the crossbar with Pears looking beaten.

But there were a couple of anxious moments at the other end, first when a Joe Rankin-Costello cross was just too high for Szmodics, before a mistake from Asprilla let the visitors in again before the linesman flagged for offside.

Martins tried his luck from distance again a minute before half-time, this time from a free-kick in a central position 25 yards out after Asprilla had been fouled, but this time he curled his effort a yard wide of the target.

The Hornets went much closer to making the breakthrough in the first of three added minutes when some intricate play in the 18-yard box ended with Dele-Bashiru pulling the trigger, only for his goalbound effort to be repelled by a superb block by Dominic Hyam as the opening period ended goalless.

Ismael made a change at the start of the second half, bringing on Louza for the ineffective Kone.

Martins had been Watford’s most eye-catching performer in the first half from an attacking perspective and he was at it again three minutes after the restart, curling a first-time effort not too far wide of the far post after build-up play involving Asprilla and Dele-Bashiru.

With the breakthrough not forthcoming after ten minutes of the second half though, Ismael made two more changes, bringing on Giorgi Chakvetadze and debutant Rajovic for Dele-Bahiru and Louza.

Tomasson followed suit with a double change of his own, as Andrew Moran and Sam Gallagher replaced Tyrhys Dolan and Harry Leonard soon after. And Moran was soon to have an opportunity as he was played in on the left side of the area but his shot was tame and comfortable for Bachmann.

Rajovic’s first touch was an eye-catching dart in behind the defence to latch onto an Asprila pass, but he was too far wide of goal to try and shoot and his attempt to pick out a teammate was blocked.

The Hornets then had an appeal for a penalty turned down after a Chakvetadze cross was blocked by a sliding defender’s arm, but referee Gavin Ward did act when a threatening Ryan Andrews run was crudely ended by a Hyam challenge, the Rovers centre-half rightly booked.

Louza took that free-kick, playing it short to Chakvetadze before firing the return over from the edge of the area, before the Moroccan slipped in Rajovic, but his first-time strike was deflected behind, although the referee awarded a goal-kick.

A busy period of play for Louza saw him booked for pulling back Adam Wharton, Ward then cautioning Andrews at the same time for an earlier foul when he had allowed Rovers the advantage.

Blackburn had looked a threat at times on the break though, and they were to strike in the 73rd minute. Initially it looked like the danger had been dealt with when Ryan Porteous’ sliding challenge halted Gallagher, but Hedges latched onto the ball, lifted it past Hoedt as he dived in and juggled it on his thigh before blasting a drive from a tight angle inside Bachmann’s near post.

Ismael responded by sending on Tom Ince for Asprilla, before Scott Wharton replaced Rankin-Costello, the Rovers man booked first for taking too long to leave the pitch.

Ismael’s fifth change saw Jeremy Ngakia replace Andrews but the Hornets were so close to equalising with ten minutes of normal time remaining when Ince’s cross from the right by-line was brought down by Louza who teed up Martins and his low strike was turned onto the far post by the diving Pears.

An additional five minutes afforded the Hornets of still getting something out of the contest, but a lazy Ken Sema shot over from distance and a blocked effort was the best they could muster on a frustrating afternoon for most inside Vicarage Road.

Watford: Bachmann; Andrews (Ngakia 79), Porteous, Hoedt, Sema; Kayembe; Dele-Bashiru (Chakvetadze 55), Kone (Louza 46); Asprilla (Ince 73), Bayo (Rajovic 55), Martins. Subs not used: Hamer, Livermore, Pollock, Morris.

Blackburn Rovers: Pears; Rankin-Costello (S Wharton 77), Carter, Hyam, Brittain; Travis (Garrett 90+5), A Wharton; Hedges, Szmodics, Dolan (Moran 57); Leonard (Gallagher 57). Subs not used: Wahlstedt, Tronstad, Markanday, Bloxham.

Bookings: Hoedt (24); Hyam (64); Louza (69); Andrews (69); Rankin-Costello (77).

Referee: Gavin Ward.