Watford moved to within touching distance of making sure of their Premier League status for another season after beating seemingly doomed West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at Vicarage Road.

After what had been an attritional battle for the most part, the decisive contribution was created by Will Hughes on his return from injury and finished impressively by Troy Deeney against the club he might have been playing for to make it three home wins out of three for Javi Gracia since taking over the Hornets helm.

The victory moved Watford up to ninth in the Premier League table, nine points clear of the drop zone and keeps them four points behind seventh-placed Burnley.

After a poor first half which had seen Daryl Janmaat go close to giving the Hornets the lead, the hosts had their chances before making the breakthrough – substitute Stefano Okaka saw one effort cleared off the line – but they also rode their luck defensively at times. Salomon Rondon had arguably the best opportunity for the visitors but he put a free header badly wide.

Watford beat Everton 1-0 last time out Gracia, perhaps surprisingly, chose to make just the one enforced change to his starting line-up with Andre Carrillo replacing the injured Gerard Deulofeu.

There was positive news among the substitutes with the return of Hughes following his hamstring injury, but this was offset by Kiko Femenia being ruled out through sickness.

Six points adrift at the bottom and after five straight defeats, the Baggies’ need for a victory was becoming increasingly desperate coming into the game.

Alan Pardew made two changes to the side that was beaten 2-1 at home by Huddersfield Town last weekend, both in midfield, with Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt replacing James McClean and Gareth Barry, who was not in the match-day 18.

There was early concern for the Hornets when Etienne Capoue, having gone to close down a Craig Dawson cross, was caught by the Albion defender’s follow through inside the opening 30 seconds. Following some treatment though, the Frenchman was able to continue.

It was a landmark day for Adrian Mariappa, who was making his 250th first-team start for the Hornets, and the defender made a crucial early intervention by saving a potential goal in the fifth minute, flinging himself in front of a Grzegorz Krychowiak shot to deflect it over the bar after Jay Rodriguez had done well on the left and his pull-back had deflected back to the Polish midfielder.

Following that escape, it was Watford’s turn to go close at the other end when Jose Holebas cross from the left was destined for Carrillo, but the ball sat up invitingly for Roberto Pereyra, whose well-struck effort was blocked behind by Jonny Evans.

The opening exchanges continued to be close, and not particularly pleasing on the eye, with Mariappa forced into more good defensive work after a mistake by Capoue had given Salomon Rondon the chance to run at the Hornets’ defence.

Capoue was the first player to be booked in the 25th minute for a foul on Krychowiak, buy eyes were also being drawn away from the pitch at this time to an advertising hoarding beneath the Elton John Stand from which smoke was billowing.

While some fans seated nearest to the area were moved, Albion had a chance when a Matt Phillips cross from the right was headed over by Rondon.

But this opportunity was the catalyst for the Hornets to up the tempo and inject some much-needed urgency into their play for a spell. The outcome was only a couple of blocked shots, while referee Paul Tierney to also over-rule a clear corner for the hosts, but the Hornets did look better for playing with greater intensity.

Albion responded to this for a period but in the 38th minute the Hornets went close to taking the lead when Pereyra fed the supporting Janmaat and his low effort was superbly turned behind by the outstretched right leg of former Hornets keeper Ben Foster.

Another opportunity came from Holebas’ resultant corner from the left which Sebastian Prodl met with a firm angled header which he flashed narrowly over the top.

However, it was the Greek defender who gave away a needless free-kick shortly before the break which gave Brunt the chance to play in a dangerous delivery from the right. But the Albion man opted to go for goal, rather than cross, and put his effort onto the roof of the net as a disappointing first half ended goalless.

Watford had the first opportunity to put a defence under pressure after the break when they were awarded a free-kick on the left which Holebas played in deep, but Richarlison couldn’t direct his header on target.

Orestis Karnezis dealt comfortably with a Rondon shot at the other end and won another confrontation with the South American moments later after he had stayed onside to latch on to a pass, with the Hornets defence caught out.

The Watford defence were at sixes and sevens again when a corner from the left was headed on by Dawson and Evans was unmarked beyond the far post when he hooked the ball back into the danger zone, with a combination of Karnezis and his near post keeping it out.

After that decidedly uncomfortable spell though, the Hornets broke through Carrillo on the right, his cross was nodded down by Abdoulaye Doucuoure to Richarlison, who went for the overhead kick but sent it the wrong side of Foster’s left-hand post.

That wasn’t far away from the opening goal, but the Baggies were to spurn a better opportunity soon after when Kieran Gibbs’ cross from the left picked out an unmarked Rondon, but he headed badly wide.

Like with Everton seven days previously, Gracia decided a change of approach was needed early in the second half as Okaka came on for Richarlison and the switch was again made to 4-4-2.

That change prompted an increase in pressure from the home side and it was almost rewarded in the 65th minute when Carrillo received a pass, shifted it out of his feet and hit a right-footed curler from 20 yards that curled narrowly over.

That was to be the Peruvian’s last involvement as he was replaced by Hughes, but it was the visitors who were next to go close when Phillips played in a dangerous low cross from the right and Janmaat did superbly to get to the ball ahead of Rodriguez, who would have had a straightforward finish otherwise.

That gave the Baggies renewed hope and after Mariappa had been booked for hauling down Rondon just outside the right edge of the penalty area, Brunt was able to play in another dangerous delivery but the Hornets’ defence did its job.

Back came Watford, winning a throw close to the corner flag and then a corner which Holebas took and the ball ran for Okaka, who spun and hit a low shot which beat Foster but not Gibbs on the line.

But with their next attack, the Hornets were to make the breakthrough.

A Hughes pass split the Baggies defence apart and Deeney timed his run to perfection, gave Foster the eyes as the keeper advanced to the edge of the area and then curled a superb finish into the top corner to make it 1-0 and mark his 300th Hornets league appearance in style.

Pardew made three changes in the final 10 minutes as the visitors tried to get back on terms but despite the occasional edgy moment, Watford were able to see the game out to complete back-to-back victories.

Watford: Karnezis; Janmaat, Prodl, Mariappa, Holebas (Britos 90); Doucuoure, Capoue; Carrillo (Hughes 65), Pereyra, Richarlison (Okaka 54); Deeney. Subs not used: Gomes, Gray, Lukebakio, Zeegelaar.

West Bromwich Albion: Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Livermore (Field 87); Phillips, Krychowiak (McClean 81), Brunt, Rodriguez (Burke 87); Rondon. Subs not used: Myhill, Nyom, Yacob, McAuley.

Bookings: Capoue for a foul on Krychowiak (25); Mariappa for a foul on Rondon (72).

Referee: Paul Tierney.