It wasn’t particularly pretty for the most part but Watford took a big step to making sure of their Premier League status with a 1-0 victory over Everton at Vicarage Road.

Troy Deeney scored the decisive goal with just over 10 minutes remaining when he turned and lashed home a pass from substitute Stefano Okaka, with Javi Gracia’s changes instrumental to the outcome.

After a dull first half, the Hornets head coach opted to change things with plenty of time for them to have an effect as he switched to 4-4-2.

The power and directness of Okaka, in particular, increasingly upset the Toffees and the Hornets had started to create more chances before scoring the vital goal.

The victory moves the Hornets back into the top 10, six points clear of the bottom three but also within four points of seventh-placed Burnley.

Gracia chose to make just the one change from the side which lost 2-0 at West Ham United a fortnight ago as he reverted to a back four, with Roberto Pereyra coming into a central attacking midfield role and Marvin Zeegelaar dropping to the bench.

Orestis Karnezis kept his place in the team despite Heurelho Gomes being fit again and the Brazilian’s inclusion on the bench was one of three positives in that respect, with Miguel Britos and Kiko Femenia also named among the replacements after their respective injury lay-offs.

Everton beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Goodison Park last time out but Sam Allardyce was forced into two injury-enforced changes in defence as Seamus Coleman and Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala were both sidelined. Their places were taken by Jonjoe Kenny and Ashley Williams.

The visitors had the first opportunity to put an opposing defence under pressure when shaky play from Sebastian Prodl saw him concede a free-kick in a potentially dangerous position to the right of centre around 35 yards out. Gylfi Sigurdsson opted to take the set piece deep to the back post, but Oumar Niasse slipped in trying to control the ball and the opportunity went begging.

Watford were soon to be breaking forward at pace, with Pereyra releasing Gerard Deulofeu to his right. The Barcelona loanee opted to come back inside before finding Daryl Janmaat on the overlap and the Dutchman was able to win a corner. Pereyra’s delivery from the right was dummied by Deulofeu to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who got his first-time right-footed effort from 20 yards all wrong.

It was Everton’s turn to counter in the 11th minute when Tom Davies released Niasse to his left and the striker took on and beat Adrian Mariappa on the outside before hitting a low drive from a tight angle that seemed to surprise Karnezis, who managed to shovel the ball away.

The game continued in something of an end-to-end fashion, with both sides striving to get the upper hand in the middle of the park, although Davies was creating problems by popping up in space between the lines.

The quality of the attacking fare was then to degenerate, with the Toffees shading a tight contest, before the temperature rose a shade when Michael Keane caught Doucoure’s foot as he went forcefully through with a challenge, but referee Anthony Taylor decided there was nothing wrong.

Watford did show more attacking intent shortly after the half hour when they broke through the middle and Deulofeu initially shaped to shoot before letting Etienne Capoue pull the trigger on the edge of the area, but he fired over.

The Hornets did have a promising opportunity soon after when Idrissa Gana Gueye took out Richarlison on the edge of the area 20 yards out just to the left of centre, but the defensive wall did its job against Deulofeu’s set-piece shot.

And that was about it for a first half that will not live long in the memory, with both sides guilty of giving the ball away too frequently and making poor decisions.

Watford started the second half positively and had the first chance two minutes in when Deulofeu drilled over a corner from the right, but Prodl was unable to direct his header on target.

The visitors responded with Wayne Rooney, who had spent most of the first half in a deeper midfield role, spreading play out to Theo Walcott on the right, with the former Arsenal man seeking to release Davies inside him but, not for the first time, Mariappa was in the right place to repel the danger.

But Everton were to have a better chance in the 53rd minute when Gueye’s deep delivery from the right picked out Keane at the far post, but he headed back across goal and wide.

Capoue was the first player to be booked soon after for a foul on Sigurdsson, but it was then the Hornets’ turn to have a chance as Doucuore released Pereyra on the right and he stood up a cross which Deeney met with a looping header which Jordan Pickford saved comfortably.

It was then a case of all change as Gracia opted to bring on Femenia and Okaka for Pereyra and Richarlison, while Sam Allardyce withdrew Niasse in favour of Cenk Tosun.

However, have made an optional double change, the Hornets boss was forced into an unwanted third soon after when Deluofeu failed in his first effort to run off an injury and was replaced by Andre Carrillo.

Gueye was then cautioned for pulling back Okaka as the game continued to go through a disrupted spell with chances remaining at a premium.

That could have changed in the 68th minute when Walcott’s cross from the right was nodded down by Tosun to Rooney as he broke into the box, but England’s record scorer struck his half-volley over the top.

Quality remained in short supply as the game entered the final 15 minutes but Watford were to trying to ratchet up the pressure, with Capoue firing high and wide from 25 yards.

And three minutes later the Hornets were handed their best chance to date when Pickford’s attempted clearance clipped Deeney and rebounded into the path of Femenia, who advanced before hitting a low drive which the Everton keeper could only parry, but the rebound wouldn’t fall kindly for a yellow shirt.

Janmaat had a low drive saved by the Everton keeper soon after but with their next chance the Hornets made the all-important breakthrough.

Femenia came inside and played the ball to Okaka to be the provider, laying a pass into Deeney, who took a touch and spun before rifling a right-footed shot inside Pickford’s near post to make it 1-0.

Allardyce responded by bringing Yannick Bolasie and Dominic Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson and Rooney, but the Hornets’ tails were up and they very nearly doubled their advantage with three minutes to go when Jose Holebas played the ball forward to Okaka, who turned his man before hitting a right-footed drive that forced Pickford into a good stop.

The Hornets had to survive one late scare when after the visitors had won a corner, Pickford ventured forward to meet the set piece with his header and Tosun turned it towards goal, but Karnezis was in the right place to gratefully clutch the ball to his chest.

Watford: Karnezis; Janmaat, Prodl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucuoure, Capoue; Deulofeu (Carrillo 63), Pereyra (Femenia 56), Richarlison (Okaka 56); Deeney. Subs not used: Gomes, Britos, Gray, Zeegelaar.

Everton: Pickford; Kenny, Williams, Keane, Martina; Gueye; Walcott, Davies, Rooney (Calvert-Lewin 82), Sigurdsson (Bolasie 82); Niasse (Tosun 56). Subs not used: Robles, Schneiderlin, Holgate, Garbutt.

Bookings: Capoue for a foul on Sigurdsson (54); Gueye for a foul on Okaka (64); Carrillo for time wasting (90).

Attendance: 20,430.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.