Watford crashed to a dismal 1-0 defeat at struggling Sunderland at the Stadium of Light this afternoon.

After an uninspiring first half, the Black Cats took the lead in the 49th minute through a sharp close-range finish from Patrick Van Aanholt.

Sunderland started the game bottom of the Premier League but grew in confidence after the opener and Watford failed to show enough craft or quality as Walter Mazzarri’s side suffered their second away defeat in four days.

The Hornets made four changes to the side beaten at Manchester City on Wednesday. Troy Deeney returned to lead the attack, in place of Jerome Sinclair, while Valon Behrami replaced the injured Roberto Pereyra.

Defender Younes Kaboul was fit to return to the side against his former club with Daryl Janmaat starting on the bench and Juan Camilo Zuniga was preferred to Adlene Guedioura.

Sunderland boss David Moyes made three changes to his side with Donald Love, Didier Ndong and Victor Anichebe coming in for John O’Shea, Billy Jones and Jan Kirchoff.

The Hornets were denied an early breakthrough from Nordin Amrabat’s spectacular volley which was tipped over by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Watford should have done better when Troy Deeney raced towards goal but the captain’s pass to Odion Ighalo was poor and easily cleared by a defender.

The visitors cut Sunderland open again but Jose Holebas’ cut-back into the area was diverted out by Donald Love with Ighalo bearing down on goal.

Mazzarri’s side should have taken the lead from Holebas’ free-kick but Miguel Britos’ header deflected off Kaboul and out of play.

Another chance went begging with Sebastian Prodl sending his header from a Holebas delivery straight into the arms of Pickford.

The Black Cats were struggling to make any impression but the hosts threatened on the counter-attack through Anichebe whose shot was deflected out by Behrami.

Watford were forced into an early change with Prodl picking up a leg injury and replaced in defence by Christian Kabasele.

Behrami picked up a booking at the end of the half after fouling Adnan Januzaj by the corner flag.

The last chance before the break fell to Van Aahnholt but his low shot was turned round the post by keeper Heurelho Gomes.

Sunderland grabbed the breakthrough shortly after the restart when Jermain Defoe’s cross was cut out by Kabasele but only into the path of Van Aanholt and he produced a neat turn and shot into the net off the far post.

Mazzarri made another change shortly after the opening goal with Isaac Success thrown into the attack in place of Zuniga.

Amrabat attempted an ambitious volley from a Watford corner but the attacker’s strike flew harmlessly high and wide.

Sunderland almost caught the visitors out on the counter-attack but Defoe lost control of the ball as he raced into the penalty area.

Moyes’ side came agonisingly close to doubling their lead through Anichebe but the powerful striker’s fizzing shot flew just past Gomes’ post.

Januzaj wriggled his way into the area and raced past Britos but his touch was too heavy and Gomes claimed the ball.

Deeney came close to grabbing his 100th goal for the Hornets but the striker steered his header from Amrabat’s cross narrowly wide.

Mazzarri made his final substitution with Kaboul booed off the pitch after being replaced by Janmaat.

The Dutch international almost came up with an equaliser but his shot was parried by Pickford.

Watford mounted late pressure in a bid to salvage a point but Ighalo's half-volley was blocked by the Sunderland keeper.

The hosts looked nervous and conceded a free-kick just outside the area but Holebas blasted his effort over the crossbar. 

There were five minutes of injury time but the Hornets could not find an equaliser and Sunderland claimed a crucial win in their battle to avoid relegation.

Sunderland: Pickford; Love (Larsson, 87), Denayer, Djilobodji, Van Aanholt; Kone, Ndong, Januzaj (O’Shea, 79); Defoe, Anichebe, Borini (Khazri, 90)

Subs not used: Mannone, Honeyman, Robson, Asoro

Watford: Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Prodl (Kabasele, 31), Kaboul (Janmaat, 77); Zuniga (Success, 56), Capoue, Behrami, Amrabat; Deeney, Ighalo

Subs not used: Pantilimon, Cathcart, Guedioura, Sinclair

Referee: Bobby Madley

Attendance: 40,267