It’s a long old trip up to Middlesbrough but, despite setting out to travel on my own, I soon found myself in the company of fellow Hornets on the journey north so it passed very quickly. The pre-match pub of choice was Dr Browns, which may not have the best selection of beers but, after a dodgy first visit, over the years I’ve become quite a fan of the DJ. Where else would you hear T Rex, Slade and Sweet blasting out and have the realization that, while I can barely remember what I did yesterday, I still know all the words to the glam rock hits of the 70s. He also runs a spot quiz with questions for both home and away fans with “fantastic prizes” (a free pint). Not the most sophisticated entertainment, but a lovely pre –match welcome to the town. One of our party had also been eagerly looking forward to reacquainting himself with the parmo. A whole week’s worth of calories in one meal. It has to be seen to be believed.
There was a late change in goal with Bond coming in for Gomes who was injured in the warm up. The only other change from Tuesday was Anya coming in for the injured Adbi, so the starting line-up was Bond, Pudil, Bassong, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Anya, Tözsér, Forestieri, Vydra and Ighalo.
After the last two games, expectations were for another good performance, but the early chances in the game fell to the home side. First Tomlin’s shot was blocked by Pudil. Then a cross from Adomah was chested down by Kike to Bamford whose shot was blocked by Tözsér. On 16 minutes, Kike looked to capitalize on a ball into the box but Ekstrand curled his leg in and cleared, although he needn’t have bothered as the Spaniard was offside. Friend beat Paredes on the wing, although he appeared to use a hand to control the ball, and put in a cross that Bassong headed clear. The ball eventually went out for a corner that fell to Adomah on the edge of the box where he hit it well over the bar. Paredes failed to clear a ball into the box so Friend was able to cross for Bamford whose shot was blocked by Bond. Friend nutmegged Paredes, but Bond saved the shot. Friend was able to get in another cross soon after but Kike got under it and headed it over.
On the half hour, Watford launched their first attack since the opening minutes of the game as Vydra received a pass from Forestieri but Konstantopoulos dropped to save the shot. A forward run by Anya was stopped when he was knocked flying by Ayala who received a yellow card for his trouble. The next card was shown to Forestieri who saw the ball flying over his head on the way out for a throw-in, so decided to reach up and handle the ball. A completely unnecessary card to pick up. Vydra broke forward and appeared to have released Forestieri, but the flag was up for offside. Kike threatened again but his header from a Fredericks cross was over the bar. Forestieri got the ball on the edge of the Boro box and manoeuvred into a position to shoot but his attempt was wide of the near post. On the stroke of half time, Forestieri passed to Anya, who ran along the bye-line and hit a shot that was parried by the keeper. The half time whistle was a bit of a relief, we had rallied a bit in the last few minutes, but Boro had had most of the possession in the half without creating too many chances. Uncharacteristically, Paredes was having a nightmare.
In the first minute of the second half, Bamford took Pudil out and saw yellow. The home side sent out a warning as Pudil failed to clear a cross and Fredericks shot just wide of the far past. On 48 minutes, Boro took the lead as the defenders again failed to clear a cross from Bamford, the ball fell to Kike who knocked it past Bond. It was disappointing, but it had been coming. The home side could have been two up almost immediately, but Bond was equal to Bamford’s shot. Whitehead was booked for a foul on Forestieri. Vydra had a great chance to equalize as Konstantopoulos punched a cross down to him but he shot over the bar. Deeney’s name was chanted as he could be seen getting ready to come on to replace Forestieri. Tözsér played the ball out to Paredes, whose cross was straight at the keeper, which was disappointing as Vydra was running in and a better delivery could have paid dividends. On the hour Watford drew level as Anya put in a low cross from the left that Deeney drilled past the keeper, much to the delight of the travelling Hornets. Soon after, Ighalo made way for Andrews. The departing player was given a good send off by the fans so acknowledged us and shook the referee’s hand on his way off. What a polite young man. We had a great chance to take the lead as Deeney played a fantastic long ball to Anya whose cross was met by Andrews whose shot was deflected for a corner.
From a Tözsér free kick, Ekstrand headed the ball against the post. Watford were now in the ascendancy and the next chance came as Munari flicked a cross from Paredes on to Vydra whose scissor kick was blocked. Boro threatened on the counter as Fredericks crossed for Kike whose shot looked as though it was on target but, thankfully, flew past the far post. Bamford, who had tormented us was replaced by Reach. Deeney played a ball back to Vydra in the box who moved it on to Paredes who volleyed wide. A shot that made me smile as it was a terrific effort from a player who had had a bad day. Tözsér tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide. From the corner, the ball was played back to Andrews who shot well over the target. Watford had dominated since the Boro goal, but the home side still posed a threat as a shot from the edge of the box by Tomlin was deflected wide. That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Vossen. A low free-kick by Tözsér was on target but Konstantopoulos turned it around the post. The final whistle went with both sides earning a deserved point.
While this game was not as entertaining as Tuesday’s, it was very pleasing to see Jokanovic make changes that had a positive effect on the game. Troy had looked very rusty when he came on against Forest, but that was far from the case today and some of the interplay between him and Vydra was a delight. Equally, Anya had a poor first half, but was very impressive on the attack in the second period. Kudos must also go to Jonathan Bond, who wasn’t expecting to play but put in a solid performance. Post-match discussions with Boro fans both on the train and on Twitter turned into a bit of a love-in. Both teams were impressive and will be challenging for promotion. This season may be one of the most competitive in the Championship and I am loving it.