Valerien Ismael said he was proud of his Watford players despite their 2-1 defeat to Leicester City at Vicarage Road this afternoon.

The last thing the Hornets needed when facing the league leaders who have dominated the Championship this season was to lose a striker after a minute, and then concede a questionable penalty soon after.

However, after going 2-0 down in the second half they dug deep and with the help of a calamitous error from City’s Harry Winks pulled a goal back through Emmanuel Dennis and spent the closing stages very much on the front foot without forcing too many saves.

“I’m really proud of the players and I’m really pleased with the performance,” said Ismael.

“In this game we had some bad luck. In one minute Bayo gets injured and we had to change the plan, and then a soft penalty.

“I have been in English football for some years, and it was a really soft penalty.

“But even at 1-0 down we were really good: disciplined, aggressive and we knew we had to be really patient.

“The mentality we showed right to the end was very good.

“We had chances, we were close but not close enough. I am proud of the players with their reaction and the mentality they showed to compete at this level.

“The main thing, which I said to the players before the game, was to put in a performance from the first minute to the last that we can be proud of after the game.

“The result is something you cannot really influence because anything can happen – as we saw with the penalty.

“But you can influence your own performance and give yourself a better chance to win the game.”

The head coach said he went to speak to referee Oliver Langford after the game.

“I spoke to the referee. I wanted to ask some questions but it won’t change anything,” Ismael confirmed.

“It’s difficult to tell a referee to take your time when making a decision when you are in a division that doesn’t have VAR.

“From my side when I first watched I thought ok, maybe he touched him. But when I saw the video it was really soft.

“He was already on the way down before he got touched, he just used the advantage from Giorgi.

“When it’s not going your way then you feel that everything goes in the other direction.

“The Bayo injury was the first we have had like that all season, and it was tough for us to have that in the first minute.”

Although they offered very little themselves in the first half, Watford also restricted Leicester to very few opportunities and the game was still well poised at the break.

“You have to stay patient. Don’t lose your head and try to push too much,” said the Watford boss.

“I said at half-time it was still 1-0 and we needed to be patient because we will have our chances, and when they come we have to be ruthless.

“I think we had two or three situations after we scored: Ince from the edge of the box, Dennis as well.

“We should take one of those to make sure you can come back into the game.”

One thing Leicester did well was to take the sting out of the game, and displayed some ‘game management’ to help frustrate Watford.

“It’s the experience they’ve got, and you see so many games down the years where a team is on top it seems that everything goes in your direction,” said Ismael.

“All the small decisions go for you and that makes things a bit easier to deal with.

“When you are struggling a little bit to find that confidence then you have to fight a little bit more.

“They are top of the league and flying, but despite that I don’t think they’ve come up against such opponents in quite a period of time.”