Sunderland 1 Watford 0: Patrick van Aanholt strike moves Cats off the bottom
After soaking up some pressure from the visitors in the first half, the Black Cats took the lead five minutes after the break as Patrick Van Aanholt forced the ball home after neat build-up play.
The hosts then dealt with more pressure from the Hornets to seal a victory which means they won’t be bottom of the table at Christmas.
David Moyes made three changes from the side that lost to Chelsea as he welcomed back both Victor Anichebe and Didier Ndong alongside Donald Love, who replaced the injured Billy Jones.
But it was the visitors who started brightest and they could have been ahead within two minutes if not for an acrobatic save from Jordan Pickford - the stopper tipping over Nordin Amrabat’s volley after Etienne Capoue had picked him out on the edge of the box.
Watford continued to press and, after Ndong surrendered possession in the middle of the park Jose Holebas surged forward with his fizzed cross flicked narrowly wide of the far post by Odion Ighalo.
Holebas was provider again as Watford spurned a golden opportunity to take when the Greek international saw his free-kick met with a free header by Miguel Britos at the far post, with the centre back somehow sending his header wide.
Sunderland’s only real chance of the first half came deep into injury time as Van Aanholt forced his way into the area before seeing a drilled shot repelled by the legs of Heurelho Gomes.
Having finished the first half strongly, Sunderland continued to press forward after the break and took the lead just five minutes after the restart.
Adnan Januzaj did well to spin away from his man before feeding Jermain Defoe, with his low cross hooked home by Van Aanholt at the second attempt.
Sensing a first win in three games the Black Cats continued to push forward with Defoe curling just over from the edge of the area before a low Donald Love cross found its way to Anichebe who fired agonisingly wide.
The Hornets still looked dangerous though, and could have been level when Amrabat won possession and drove forward before finding the diving Troy Deeney whose header ended up on the wrong side of the post.
Substitue Daryl Janmaat and Ighalo both had late efforts for Watford, but neither long-range strike caused Pickford much trouble as Sunderland held on to claim a win which sees them rise to 18th and just one point adrift of safety.
Sunderland: Pickford, Love (Larsson 87), Djilobodji, Kone, Van Aanholt, Denayer, Ndong, Januzaj (O’Shea 79), Borini (Khazri 90), Defoe (C), Anichebe
Subs Not Used: Mannone, Asoro, E. Robson, Honeyman
Goals: Van Aanholt (50)
Yellow Cards: Januzaj (36)
Watford: Gomes, Holebas, Kaboul (Janmaat 78), Prodl (Kabasele 31), Britos, Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Zuniga (Success 56), Deeney (C), Ighalo
Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Cathcart, Guedioura, Sinclair
Yellow Cards: Behrami (45), Kaboul (75)
Referee: Mr Robert Madley