Watford’s five-game search for a win is over after one moment of quality from a young Colombian proved to be the difference in an otherwise largely dour 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

The contest had looked increasingly to be drifting to a goalless stalemate until, three minutes after being introduced from the bench by Valerien Ismael, Yaser Asprilla latched on to Ismael Kone’s fine pass out of defence, weighed up his options as he came inside before firing a left-footed finish inside Cameron Dawson’s near post from the edge of the penalty area.

The fact it was the Hornets’ first attempt on target spoke volumes for most of what had come before. The hosts stuck at their task and remained patient but they played like a side short on confidence, often appearing more concerned about trying not to lose the game rather than being bolder and rolling the dice to go and win it.

Winless Wednesday had previously enjoyed the two best chances in a game where opportunities were in very short supply, while Watford had a potentially match-changing refereeing decision go in their favour when Dean Whitestone, correctly, changed his mind after speaking to the linesman, having initially pointed to the spot following a Jamal Lewis challenge on Anthony Musaba early in the second half.

Having taking the lead though, the Hornets did play with a little more freedom and belief and the win should give them some more confidence to take to Swansea City on Tuesday night.

Ismael made three changes from the team that ended a losing run with a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City before the international break.

Ryan Porteous, Imran Louza and Tom Ince all returned, with Francisco Sierralta, Edo Kaymebe and Asprilla dropping to a bench that also included the fit-again Ken Sema.

The Owls drew 0-0 with Huddersfield Town in their last game before the international break, but new boss Danny Rohl’s first team selection included only three players from that starting XI in goalkeeper Cameron Dawson, Dominic Iorfa and Callum Paterson.

The opening stages followed a familiar trend to other games at Vicarage Road this season, with the hosts pressing from the front and dominating possession.

It took until the 11th minute for the first opening to arrive when Jeremy Ngakia initially did well after receiving the ball following a throw, wriggling past three opponents to get free in the penalty area, only to then fire well over the top.

Watford’s passing had not been at its sharpest from the outset though, with Porteous and Wesley Hoedt both lax on occasions when playing out from the back, while a general lack of tempo about the home side’s work contributed to the opening 20 minutes passing with little noteworthy incident.

And that largely continued for another ten minutes until the Owls weren’t far away from scoring with their first chance when a Barry Bannan free-kick from deep wasn’t properly cleared, Josh Hendrick crossed from the right and Josh Windass headed narrowly over the top.

But that close call sparked the home side into life, with Tom Ince putting Ngakia clear on the right and his low delivery across the six-yard box was just too far ahead of the sliding Vakoun Bayo and Pol Valentin put the ball behind before Matheus Martins could get on the end of it at the far post.

Hoedt then fired high and wide from distance but at last some action was starting to break out to wake the crowd from their slumber, with a Bannan shot at the other end going behind for a corner after hitting Ngakia.

It was the Hornets right-back who created the next opportunity, again combining well with Ince to get into a crossing situation which ended with Louza trying to guide a header inside the far post but putting it wide.

It took until a minute before half-time for either side to muster an on-target attempt, but then Hendrick’s strike from distance was straight down Daniel Bachmann’s throat.

Soon after, Porteous was dispossessed trying to play the ball out and then fouled Windass in a desperate attempt to retrieve the ball, which earned him a yellow card from referee Dean Whitestone as a poor first half came to a close.

Ismael showed what he thought of the first-half performance by making a double change after the restart, bringing on Mileta Rajovic and Kone for Bayo and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Lewis joined Porteous in the referee’s notebook four minutes after the restart for a foul on Hendrick, but from the resultant free-kick the Hornets were fortunate not to go behind.

Windass clipped in the set-piece from right of centre, midway inside the Watford half, and Hendrick got free of some largely non-existent marking but directed his header over the target.

But it looked like the Hornets wouldn’t escape a second time when Musaba took on and beat Lewis, only to go to ground when he was challenged and Whitestone immediately pointed to the penalty spot.

The home side couldn’t believe the decision and, as replays were confirming Lewis had indeed won the ball, the referee consulted his linesman and reversed the decision to award a corner.

It was to be Lewis’ last involvement though, as he was replaced by Sema before the set piece could be taken.

Watford continued to look shaky at the back as their opponents became more ambitious, Patterson the next to get in behind the defence to set up Musaba, but Bachmann was down at his feet to deal with the danger.

The Hornets made their fourth change in the 62nd minute, with Giorgi Chakvetadze replacing Louza, while the Owls’ first substitution saw Mallik Wilks come or Musaba.

There was some more tempo and urgency about Watford’s play after the restart and they were getting into areas where they could threaten to ask more attacking questions, but many in yellow still felt like they were playing with the handbrake on and not willing to be bolder and take some risks.

Ince made way for Asprilla in the 77th minute as Wednesday brought on Reece James for John Buckley, but that moment of quality remained elusive – until two Watford substitutes found it to unlock the Wednesday defensive door.

A fine pass from Kone out of defence spotted Asprilla breaking into space on the right where the Colombian latched onto the ball and came inside to the centre edge of the penalty area where he drilled a low, left-footed shot inside Dawson’s near post to make the crucial breakthrough.

Rohl brought on Michael Smith and Lee Gregory for Hendrick and Windass in a last throw of the dice, but their opponents were now playing with a little more freedom and confidence, Chakvetadze trying a curler from outside the area which Dawson held.

The Wednesday keeper also made a routine stop from a Martins effort after Ngakia clipped the ball forward as the game moved into six minutes of stoppage time.

Martins also shot over following a Chakvetadze flick as the home side countered, but the last action saw Wednesday send up keeper Dawson for a corner, but Porteous headed clear as the home side saw the job through.

Watford: Bachmann; Ngakia, Porteous, Hoedt, Lewis (Sema 55); Louza (Ckakvetadze 62), Livermore, Dele-Bashiru (Kone 46); Ince (Asprilla 77), Bayo (Rajovic 46), Martins. Subs not used: Hamer, Sierralta, Healey, Kayembe.

Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Valentin, Iorfa, Diaby, Famewo; Hendrick (Smith 88), Bannan, Musaba (Wilks 62), Windass (Gregory 88), Buckley (James 77); Paterson. Subs not used: Vasquez, Palmer, Vaulks, Byers, Bernard.

Bookings: Porteous for a foul on Windass (44); Lewis for a foul on Hendrick (50); Hendrick for a foul on Livermore (68).

Referee: Dean Whitestone.