Burnley's 10 men just failed to pull off a successful comeback as two first-half goals gave Watford enough to hang onto and record a first home win since early December.
Jeff Hendrick's red card - the Clarets' first of the season - after just six minutes for a foul on Jose Hobelas left Sean Dyche's men with a mountain to climb as they looked for a first away win of the season.
It was a challenge that looked as though it might be beyond them when goals from Troy Deeney and M'Baye Niang made it 2-0 at half-time.
But a brave fightback after the break - helped by lively debuts from the bench from record buy Robbie Brady and midfielder Ashley Westwood - underlined the Clarets' never-say-die spirit.
Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with 12 minutes to go.
And with Burnley piling on the pressure in search of an equaliser, it was Watford who were relieved to hear the final whistle as they survived a late scare when Barnes almost grabbed an injury-time leveler.
The return of Scott Arfield to starting duty in place of the injured Steven Defour was the only change to the Clarets' side which had beaten champions Leicester City in mid-week as Brady and Westwood both started on the bench.
But Burnley's game plan quickly had to be altered when Hendrick was sent off for catching Hobelas high with a mis-timed challenge.
That meant a move inside for Arfield and extra work for both Barnes and Andre Gray as they looked to take their turns helping out in midfield.
But the re-shaped line-up had barely had time to settle when Watford took the lead.
Deeney was a constant handful and when Niang crossed from the right, the Watford skipper got there first to stoop and head past Tom Heaton to claim his seventh goal of the season and fourth in successive home league games against the Clarets with 10 minutes gone.
Deeney's threat comes as no surprise, but is difficult to contain and the powerful forward, who previously played under Dyche's management at Watford, also laid on shooting opportunities for Niang and Mauro Zarate which forced Heaton into saves.
Zarate, making his debut after signing from Fiorentaina, then curled an effort just wide as Watford were the better side in a first half which saw the Clarets struggle to impose themselves.
Joey Barton did his best to get the visitors a foothold in the game and tested goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes with a dipping free-kick from just outside the penalty area.
But a difficult task was made even harder just before the break when Watford went 2-0 in stoppage time.
Holebas, who had earlier collected his 11th booking of the season for a high foot on Barton, this time delivered the cross which on-loan AC Milan forward Niang met with an excellent glancing header across Heaton and into the far corner.
The Clarets needed a response and got one at the start of the second half as they threatened from a flurry of corners, Stephen Ward going closest as he flicked a Michael Heaton header towards the bottom corner of the net and forcing Gomes to make a scrambling save.
Brady was sent on for his debut just 10 minutes into the half and helped inject a further bit of energy into the Clarets' attempts to stage a comeback with his positive running and willingness to get on the ball.
Watford were certainly being asked more questions than they had been earlier in the piece as Burnley belied their number shortage to take fight to the home side.
It still took a brilliant save from Heaton, somehow keeping out a close-range Deeney effort, to keep Dyche's men in the contest as Watford looked to strike on the break.
But with 12 minutes to the Clarets got a goal back to keep their hopes alive.
The hard-working Barnes, who never stopped running, saw an overhead kick cleared off the line and when Barton followed up with a goal-bound shot, Sebastien Prodl handled to concede a spot-kick.
Barnes coolly converted to claim his fourth goal of the season and Dyche threw on Sam Vokes to help add to the momentum and force a late leveler.
Brady almost capped a appetite-whetting cameo with a dipping volley which Gomes was happy to hold.
But the one real chance Burnley wanted fell to Barnes in stoppage time, when a mistake from Craig Cathcart gave the Clarets' striker a last sight of goal.
Barnes' effort was on target but went too close to Gomes as a relieved Watford clung on to go back above Burnley - still somehow with only one point to show for their efforts on the road following a fifth successive one-goal reverse away from home - in the table.
Burnley: Heaton, Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward, Boyd (Vojkes 86), Barton, Hendrick, Arfield (Westwood 77), Barnes, Gray (Brady 55). Substitutes: Robinson, Flanagan, Tarkowski, Gudmundsson.
Sent off: Hendrick
Watford: Gomes, Prodl, Cathcart, Kaboul, Holebas, Niang (Success 81), Behrami (Doucoure 64), Capoue, Cleverley, Zarate (Janmaat 87), Deeney. Substitutes: Arlauskiks, Britos, Watson, Okaka.
Booked: Niang, Holebas, Capoue, Cathcart, Prodl.
Referee: Michael Oliver