Victor Valdes returned in goal as he celebrated his 35th birthday, but Adam Clayton on his 28th started on the bench, as did Dael Fry on his return from a loan spell with Rotherham.
It was a team that represented a change in formation to 5-3-2.
Tom Cleverley, who signed on loan from Everton a few days ago, started on the bench.
A selection of Graham Taylor’s favourite tunes were played in the hour leading to kick-off, as video tributes and highlights of Watford games from both his spells as manager here were played out on the big screen. Around the perimeter of the pitch the electronic advertising slogan carried the simple message, There’s Only One Graham Taylor.
Emotions ran even higher kick-off approached. A foil display at one end of the ground was terrific, the minute’s applause as both teams stood around the centre circle, heartfelt, moving and so richly deserved as fans of both sides, many moved to tears, paid their respects.
Watford made the better start and missed a great chance to take the lead when Troy Deeney – a player with an excellent scoring record against Boro – delayed shooting when clear and in on goal, Valdes racing off his line to narrow the angle and block a shot.
Boro had the ball in the net a few minutes later when Cristhian Stuani controlled a left-wing cross on his chest and tucked in. However Fabio and maybe marginally Stuani himself, were offside.
It proved to be a rare chance in a game played predominantly between both penalty areas and not too often in them.
That was until the 26th minute when Abdoulaye Doucoure shot low from the edge of the box, Valdes couldn’t hold on and Boro were forced to scramble clear.
Boro were down to ten men the next time Watford pressed, Fabio off the field for treatment, as Stefano Okaka bustled his way into the penalty area and drilled over a low cross which Calum Chambers cleared as Deeney was set to pounce in front of goal.
The visitors wasted a good chance to open the scoring with 34 minutes played when Alvaro Negredo flicked a header from a throw-in over the top to Stuani. His lob beat Heurelho Gomes, who had come well off his line, but landed on top of the net.
Half-time Watford 0 Middlesbrough 0
Valdes was called into action early in the second half, falling away to his right to smother a goalbound header from Okaka as he rose to meet a right-wing free-kick.
It came during a passage of play where Boro were pushed back, but not particularly stretched.
Following a break in play to allow Gomes to receive treatment Boro fashioned a half chance for Grant Leadbitter from a Stuani cross, however a speculative effort from the skipper was just off target.
So too was Etienne Capoue with a curling shot from just inside the penalty area in the next move of the game.
Both sides made changes within a minute of each other with Boro fans getting their first look at Rudy Gestede when he replaced Stuani, before Gomes was replaced by former Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
As the clock ticked into the 72nd minute the fans around the ground stood to applaud and sing, “There’s only one Graham Taylor.” It was a tribute that lasted the full minute.
Doucoure was just off target with a header, before Gestede chased to win back a lost ball, turn and shoot just over from 22 yards.
On the woodwork saved Boro as Deeney headed on from a throw and Cleverley’s low shot came back off Valdes’ left-hand post and Capoue curled the rebound just off target.
In the closing minutes Watford almost made the breakthrough as Deeney, under pressure, shot low from the edge of the box with the ball deflecting off the inside of Valdes’ left foot and wide for a corner.
Entering injury time there was a mini flash point when Fabio was fouled. Miguel Britos was booked for the tackle, Fabio for retaliation and Deeney for ungentlemanly conduct.
Full-time: Watford 0 Middlesbrough 0
Watford: Gomes (Pantilimon 65); Britos, Kaboul, Prodl, Deeney (Capt.), Behrami (Cleverley 76), Doucoure, Holebas (Zuniga 88), Kabasele, Capoue, Okaka. Subs: Cathcart, Sinclair, Watson, Ighalo.
Middlesbrough: Valdes; Fabio, Chambers, Bernardo, Gibson, Friend, De Roon, Leadbitter (Capt.), Forshaw, Stuani (Gestede 64), Negredo. Subs: Guzan (gk); Fry, Clayton, Fischer, Downing, Traore.
Referee Jonathan Moss. West Yorkshire.
Watford Okaka 77, diving; Britos 90+1 foul, Deeney 90+1 ungentlemanly conduct.
Boro Fabio 90+1, retaliation.
Conditions Cold, dry and breezy during the game, wet beforehand.
Attendance 20,659 (2,119 Boro)
mfc.co.uk Man of the Match Bernardo