STOKE CITY suffered their first defeat in five as Watford stunned the Potters and claimed all three points at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Mark Hughes’ side went in to the game on the back of four successive victories in all competitions but struggled to find a way through a stubborn and well-drilled Hornets backline.
For all of the home side’s dominance during the opening 45 minutes it was the visitors who went in at the break in front thanks to Troy Deeney’s superbly-taken effort.
The hosts rallied in the second half but were unable to seriously trouble Heurelho Gomes in the Hornets goal, and they effectively put the game to bed just over 20 minutes from time.
A mistake from substitute Marc Wilson gifted possession to Odion Ighalo, he freed Almen Abdi who in turn rifled the ball into the back of the net leaving Jack Butland helpless.
Prior to kick-off Hughes named an unchanged side from the one that claimed a thoroughly deserved triumph against Swansea City five days earlier.
That meant a first home appearance for summer acquisition Joselu, who had featured in all six of his previous matches for the Club on the road.
Stoke, who came into the fixture riding on the crest of a wave, surprisingly struggled to gain any real early momentum with the first opportunity of the game, in the third minute, falling to Quique Flores’ men.
A long punt forward caught Geoff Cameron unaware, he fell to the ground clutching his groin, and Deeney found himself through on goal; although thankfully Glen Johnson rushed back and prodded the ball from underneath the striker and away from danger.
The Potters gradually began to find their rhythm with Bojan showing his intricacy in the middle to free Xherdan Shaqiri down the flank, but his ball drifted narrowly beyond the reach of the leaping Joselu.
Swiss international Shaqiri then whipped a corner in that very nearly curled into the top corner but Gomes reacted well and stopped the ball from creeping over the line.
The former Inter Milan man was at the thick of the action once more midway through the half when he picked out Arnautovic with a delicious delivery but the Austrian glanced over when he really should have hit the net.
At the other end the Hornets twice thought they had broken the deadlock when Ighalo rattled the crossbar with a thumping header before Deeney watched in disbelief as he endured the same feat with the rebound.
Those warning signs were ignored and just three minutes before half-time Ighalo flicked the ball into Deeney’s path, he side-stepped Philipp Wollschied and curled the ball into the far corner of the net.
The late goal undoubtedly affected the confidence of the home side, who as a consequence of falling behind lost their confidence and swagger on the ball.
Even Arnautovic, who had been in outstanding form during the opening weeks of the term, struggled to find the spark that he has so often provided in recent weeks.
Hughes introduced Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters from the bench as he looked to rejuvenate his troops on the hour mark, and whilst they added guile and guidance up top, the quality of service was more often than not lacking.
Scotland international Charlie Adam saw several long range efforts drift away from target, whilst Bojan suffered the same result when he let rip from 25-yards.
It was proving to be a relatively comfortable afternoon for Gomes, who was reduced to tears when he visited the Britannia Stadium earlier in his career with previous club Tottenham Hotspur.
Republic of Ireland international Wilson, who had earlier replaced the injured Cameron, had a moment to forget in the 69th minute when he dawdled on the ball for too long allowing Watford to break and double their advantage.
Ighalo’s good work paved the way for Abdi, an international teammate of Shaqiri, to surge forward and produce an outstanding right foot drive that nestled in the back of the net.
The goal killed off any remaining hope the players and supporters had of seeing the Potters claw themselves back into the encounter, with attentions now turning straight towards Tuesday evening’s Capital One Cup showdown with reigning champions Chelsea.