Everton fought back from two-nil down to secure a first win since September, thanks to a late penalty.
Everton looked set for a sixth successive defeat in all competitions, and fourth under caretaker manager David Unsworth, when Christian Kabasele’s 64th-minute header put the visitors 2-0 up, adding to Richarlison’s strike in the first minute of the second half.
But Oumar Niasse pulled a goal back three minutes later, substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed home an equaliser with 16 minutes to go and Leighton Baines subsequently converted a penalty in stoppage time to complete the turnaround. Cleverley then had the opportunity to make it 3-3 at the death but sent his spot-kick off-target.
What was Everton’s first win in nine matches saw them rise from 19th to 15th in the table and brought a much-needed dose of positivity ahead of the international break, in which the club’s hierarchy are expected to make a decision on the permanent successor to the sacked Ronald Koeman.
What becomes of Unsworth, who would like the job full-time, remains to be seen but what is certain is that he will have taken great satisfaction from this, the first home match he has overseen since taking temporary charge, which was watched from the stands by major shareholder Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright.
The first chance of a game that started poorly but ended up as a thriller fell to Everton in the 22nd minute.
The ball went from Tom Davies and via Niasse and Wayne Rooney to Baines, and the full-back’s shot was well saved by Heurelho Gomes.
Davies then sent a hugely ambitious strike from distance off-target, before Andre Gray failed to make use of Kiko Femenia’s low delivery to him in front of Everton’s goal, completely miscuing his attempted shot.
There was little more in the way of attacking action until just before the interval, when Richarlison sped forward having been fed by Gray and got around Jordan Pickford only to shoot wide, and Abdoulaye Doucoure hit an effort straight at the goalkeeper moments later.
Richarlison then made amends for his miss less than a minute after the interval. Watford sprung a counter-attack and Gray sent a pass to Richarlison, who went around Pickford again and this time finished in very tidy fashion.
As Everton pushed for a swift equaliser, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s shot was parried by Gomes and the goalkeeper then tipped away Rooney’s cross under pressure from Niasse. Gomes was hurt in the incident and after receiving treatment on-field, came off with a bandage around his head, with Orestis Karnezis coming on to replace him.
Everton fans were then left stunned as Watford doubled their lead when Kabasele connected with Jose Holebas’ corner.
But they soon had something to cheer as Niasse latched on to Ademola Lookman’s lofted pass, got the ball past the outrushing Karnezis and bundled it over the line.
Lookman’s fellow substitute Calvert-Lewin then brought things all-square, nodding in at the far post from Baines’ corner.
And Unsworth’s third substitute, Aaron Lennon, was subsequently involved in the build-up to what proved the winner, with the winger being brought down by Holebas in the box and referee Graham Scott pointing to the spot.
Baines converted the resulting penalty confidently and a wild roar erupted around Goodison Park.
The home supporters then had their hearts in their mouths as Scott awarded a penalty at the other end, Pickford having been adjudged to have fouled Richarlison. But Cleverley could not show the same accuracy from 12 yards as Baines, firing wide.