Middlesbrough 1 Watford 1
TWO second half goals saw this enjoyable and keenly-contested affair end all-square. Writes GORDON COX from the Riverside.
Boro had been unchanged just once in 95 games coming into this one and that was going increase today as Grant Leadbitter missed out as he served a one match suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card on Tuesday.
Aitor Karanka made three other changes to the side that lost at Molineux. Kenneth Omeruo, Adam Reach and Jelle Vossen dropped to the bench as Ben Gibson, Adam Clayton, Lee Tomlin and Kike all started. Dean Whitehead took over as captain.
Watford manager Slavisa Jokanovic was forced into a change just before the kick-off as captain and goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was injured in the warm up. He was replaced between the posts by Jonathan Bond, as captain by Daniel Tozser and on the bench by Rene Gilmartin. He was one of two changes from the side that drew at home with Forest on Tuesday, the other saw Almen Abdi miss out, replaced by Ikechi Anya.
The opening stages of the game proved to be as competitive and interesting as had been hoped and largely expected.
Watford were pushed back, but looked coiled and dangerous, ready to spring at any time.
Boro looked mobile and well up to the task in hand. George Friend sent over three telling crosses in quick succession that had the visitors stretched. Lee Tomlin delayed releasing Ryan Fredericks on the overlap when he would have been in with a run on goal and Kike had a shot blocked on the turn as Boro looked to make the breakthrough.
Patrick Bamford had a close-range shot blocked, before Albert Adomah cleared the bar from a lot further out.
Fredericks was next to press, then Friend brought panic to the defence with a low cross which Bond could only reach with fingertips, but the ball would not fall to a red shirt.
The first real action for Dimi Konstantopoulos came just past the half hour when he had to dive full length to his left to turn away an excellent low curling shot from Matej Vydra 20 yards out.
In the final minute of the half Anya cut towards the goal line inside the Boro penalty area and sent over a powerful cross which Konstantopoulos palmed away to safety.
Half-time Middlesbrough 0 Watford 0
Boro began the second half in positive fashion and three minutes into it took the lead.
Not long after Fredericks was inches away with a curler from just inside the penalty area he was involved in the goal which broke the deadlock. Set up by Clayton he crossed from the right, Bamford layed the ball back into the path of Kike who shot powerfully across Bond from seven yards. It was his first goal since the 4-0 demolition of Brentford.
A minute later it was nearly two as Fredericks – as impressive on the right as Friend on the left – swept over a deep cross and Bamford, stretching, shot just off target.
As Boro looked for the cushion of a second they were caught out as the ball fell to Vydra seven yards out in front of goal, but he cleared the bar with a rising shot.
Their next effort, just their second on target, counted. Troy Denney had only been on the field for nine minutes when he reacted quicker than any Boro defender to meet a low cross from the left from Anya to slam home the equaliser from seven yards.
Another sub, Keith Andrews, saw a 20-yard shot deflected for a corner and now it was Watford who were on top.
Only the woodwork prevented them from taking the lead when Joel Ekstrand rose to meet a right-wing free-kick and a flick header came back off Konstantopoulos’s right-hand post with the goalkeeper stranded.
Keeping up the pressure and now fancying their chances of going in front, Watford went close when Tozser had a 22-yard shot deflected before Kike first headed then shot over as Boro won two corners in quick succession when breaking free.
It took a full-length save from Konstantopoulos away to his left to tip away a 25-yard free-kick struck low by Tozser.
Scorers Kike 48, Deeney 61
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Fredericks, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Adomah, Whitehead (Capt), Clayton, Tomlin (Vossen 82), Bamford (Reach 72), Kike. Subs: Mejias (gk); Omeruo, Husband, Veljkovic, Nsue.
Watford: Bond; Ekstrand, Paredes, Pudil, Bassong, Munari, Tozser, Anya, Forestieri (Deeney 52), Vydra, Ighalo (Andrews 63). Subs: Gilmartin (gk); Doyley, Hoban, Murray, Dyer.
Referee Mr James Adcock
Middlesbrough Ayala 34, foul; Bamford 46, foul; Whitehead 51, foul; Fredericks 90+2, foul.
Watford Forestieri, 39, handball
Attendance 17,491 (493 Watford)
Conditions Cool, bright, dry and breezy.
Possession: Boro 50% Watford 50%
Boro Website Man of the Match: George Friend