It had been almost ten matches since Watford scored in front of the Rookery, but Danny Graham ended that record – and his side’s seven-game search for a win – as Malky Mackay’s men showed great character to beat Leicester City 3-2 at Vicarage Road this afternoon.

The Hornets were firmly in the driving seat by mid-way through the first half thanks to goals from John Eustace and Will Buckley, only to be pegged back by a penalty and free-kick from the right foot of Paul Gallagher.

At that stage, the omens didn’t look good for the hosts as the momentum had firmly swung in the Foxes’ favour, but Leicester hadn’t legislated for a stunning delivery from Jordon Mutch and Graham’s decisive contribution that saw him take his tally for the season into double figures and net the first goal in front of the Rookery since the middle of August.

Mackay made just the one change from the 0-0 draw at Barnsley and it was slightly surprising, with Buckley returning to the starting line-up after an absence of eight matches in place of Troy Deeney. The former Walsall striker was one of three forwards on the bench, including youngster Gavin Massey.

The hosts started positively, winning their first corner after a minute and this led to their opening chance, with Martin Taylor hitting the side netting at the far post from Mutch’s set piece.

Another opportunity came two minutes later when Adrian Mariappa’s fine pass forward found Graham, who was let down slightly by his first touch, but he was still able to lay the ball behind to Don Cowie, whose first-time cross from the left was headed behind.

The Foxes also got off on the right footing, keeping possession and moving the ball around nicely in midfield, but it was their opponents who continued to look more threatening in the attacking third, taking their corner count to four by the 13th minute.

That rose to five two minutes later and, from it, the Hornets took the lead in relatively straightforward fashion.

Mutch again took the set piece, this time from the right, and Eustace was able to find plenty of space in the heart of the area and meet the delivery with a side-footed finish to net his fourth of the campaign.

Prior to taking the lead though, Watford had looked threatening on the counter-attack and from the next such situation Graham saw a shot blocked back to Mutch, whose well-struck half-volley was also blocked behind for a sixth corner.

Andy King curled a shot over at the other end before the hosts were briefly caught ball-watching, allowing Roman Bednar to get on the end of Greg Cunningham’s low centre from the left, but the on-loan West Bromwich Albion striker put the ball wide of Scott Loach’s right-hand post. Moments later though, Leicester found themselves two down.

After the Hornets had won the ball back in midfield, Andrew Taylor clipped a pass forward to Buckley, who had got goal-side of his man and was through on Chris Weale. Although the Foxes keeper got there first, he made a complete hash of his attempted clearance, allowing Buckley to take a touch and compose himself before sliding the ball into the empty net in the 22nd minute.

It could, and perhaps should, have been 3-0 two minutes later when Andrew Taylor played a free-kick down the blind side to Cowie on the right and his cross was met by Martin Taylor, but the centre-half headed down and narrowly wide of Weale’s right-hand post.

Leicester were rocking, although Mariappa bravely got his head in the way of a Richie Wellens piledriver in the 29th minute to hand the visitors their first corner and, from that, the former Doncaster Rovers midfielder pulled another effort wide.

Wellens had another attempt in the 36th minute, but this time Loach had to get down smartly to keep out a well-struck effort from the left side of the six-yard box.

The linesman then spared Bednar’s blushes when he somehow contrived to miss the target completely from inside the six-yard box after Gallagher had swung over a cross from the right.

Buckley became the first player to see yellow two minutes before the break when he fouled Cunningham, but the midfielder, in tandem with Martin Taylor, then did well to prevent Gallagher getting a clean strike on the ball after breaking into the area, allowing Loach to make a more routine save than at one stage looked likely.

The Foxes continued to press as the half drew to a close, but Gallagher wasted a decent opportunity from a free-kick towards the right of the Hornets area when he struck it across the wall and wide.

The visitors continued to look for a way back into the contest after the restart, winning two corners in the opening two minutes of the half, and from the second Loach made a superb reaction stop to keep out Bednar’s close-range header from Cunningham’s set piece.

But Leicester were, quite literally, handed a route back into the game in the 50th minute when Gallagher beat Loach from the penalty spot after Andrew Taylor had been adjudged to have handled a Kyle Naughton’s attempted cross from the right.

Trailing 2-1, Bednar had Leicester’s next attempt, with a half-volley from the edge of the area that comfortably cleared the bar, but Watford were almost in trouble again in the 54th minute when King picked out Gallagher to his left in the area, but the scorer’s finish lacked power and Loach was able to parry.

Buckley’s involvement in the game ended in the 57th minute when he was replaced by Deeney and Sven-Goran Eriksson followed suit a minute later, bringing on Steve Howard for Bednar.

Watford had found it hard to get going as an attacking force in the second half, although they were a deflection away from possibly making it 3-1 after 61 minutes.

The Foxes were caught again on the counter as Cowie slipped in Graham on the left and, with McGinn wide open in the middle, the Hornets striker sought to find his team-mate, only for the ball to be deflected back to Weale off the outstretched boot of Jack Hobbs.

Matt Oakley came on for King in the 64th minute before Deeney missed a great chance to score a third 60 seconds later.

Quick thinking from Andrew Taylor at a throw-in saw him find Cowie tight to the by-line, he laid the ball into Graham in the six-yard box, who in turn found McGinn. The Scot had his back to goal, but he back-heeled it to Deeney, who was coming on to the ball from the right side of the area, but the substitute dragged his right-footed effort narrowly wide of the far post. It was a miss that was to be punished five minutes later.

The Foxes were awarded a free-kick in a central position after Lloyd Doyley was adjudged to have fouled and Gallagher’s right-footed effort went over the wall and inside Loach’s right-hand post, via the keeper’s despairing outstretched right hand.

Having been pegged back, the Hornets spurned another fine opportunity to score a third in the 75th minute when the ball was passed along the edge of the 18-yard box until Mutch found Cowie, but the Scot didn’t get hold of his first-time right-footed finish and Weale was able to comfortably save.

Eriksson played his final card two minutes later, bringing on Martyn Waghorn for Darius Vassell, and then McGinn made way for Marvin Sordell.

Howard picked up a yellow card for persistent fouling with eight minutes remaining, but his side went close again soon after when Yuki Abe sent a good volleying opportunity over after Hobbs had headed a corner back across the six-yard box.

No sooner had Leicester had an opportunity though, than Watford had one at the other end when Sordell looked to go round Weale, only to come off worse when the keeper challenged him and Weale then did well to block Mutch’s follow up from close range.

The Foxes managed to repel the danger from the resultant corner but they had no answer to a simply stunning left-footed delivery from the right by Mutch and Graham got there just before Mariappa to head in his tenth of the season and make it 3-2 and spark jubilant scenes in the Rookery.

Unfortunately for Sordell, he failed to recover from the shoulder injury sustained in the challenge with Weale and had to be replaced by Massey with three minutes remaining.

Abe tested Loach with a low drive at the other end as the game entered the first of five minutes of injury time, but the hosts safely negotiated that to start climbing the table again.

Watford: Loach; Doyley, Mariappa, M Taylor, A Taylor; Eustace; Buckley (Deeney 57); Mutch, Cowie; McGinn (Sordell 80, Massey 87)); Graham. Not used: Hodson, Gilmartin, Jenkins and Bennett.

Leicester City: Weale; Naughton, Davies, Hobbs, Cunningham; Abe, Wellens, Gallagher; King (Oakley 64); Vassell (Waghorn 77), Bednar (Howard 58). Not used: Morrison, Oakley, Dyer and Logan.

Bookings: Buckley for a foul on Cunningham after 43 mins; Howard for persistent fouling after 82 mins.

Attendance: 14,449.

Referee: Kevin Wright.