It’s been a year since Boro recorded that memorable home win over Sheffield Wednesday to briefly move top of the Championship table with promotion in their sights. How times have changed.
Twelve months on Boro only have half the points they had accumulated at this stage last season, as hopes for a top six finish this time around are beginning to fade fast.
In Saturday’s 2-2- draw at home to Watford, Boro once again gave their rendition of the good, the bad and the ugly, salvaging a late point, which could easily have been three.
Caretaker Manager Mark Venus will now wonder whether his brief reign will extend beyond next week’s international break, with Boro’s next game away at Leeds in two weeks time. Yesterday’s stalemate neither hindered nor strengthened his chances of landing the job permanently.
After defeat at Blackburn last time out Venus made three changes, two were enforced as Jonathan Woodgate and Jozsef Varga dropped out with injuries, in came Seb Hines and Mustapha Carayol.
In Woodgate’s absence Kei Kamara wore the captain’s armband for the first time while the other change saw George Friend drop to the bench as he was replaced by Ben Gibson at left back.
A minute silence took place to remember those who lost their lives in World War 1; its conclusion brought a roaring applause from the 14,000 Boro fans, who were fired up for the afternoon ahead.
However after a quiet opening Boro were caught off guard with ten minutes on the clock, Lewis McGugan slipped a pass through to Marco Faraoni inside the Boro box, but the Watford full back was denied by Jason Steele who fisted the ball away at his near post.
Watford’s attacking duo of Troy Deeney and Fernando Forestieri continued to cause problems, with some threatening runs in behind the Boro back four.
Nevertheless Boro began to find their feet, their biggest menace came in the shape of Albert Adomah whose high cross on sixteen minutes found Kei Kamara in the box, however the forward’s header was blocked by the crowd of Watford defenders.
With twenty three minutes played Boro strung together a move to produce arguably their best goal of the season so far. A fluent move saw Marvin Emnes combine with Kamara on the edge of the Watford box, Kamara then picked out the advanced figure of Rhys Williams on the right, whose back heal sat perfectly for Adomah to lash the ball past Watford keeper Manual Almunia at his near post.
With the wind in their sails Boro pushed for a second. However, they were effortlessly undone eight minutes later. There was a suspicion of offside when Forestieri drifted a pass over the Boro defence towards Deeney, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and with only Steele to beat the Watford striker slotted in his seventh goal of the season.
The almost silent response felt like the life had been sucked out of stadium, some verbal criticism of the linesman followed with the lack of Boro appeals suggesting he got it right.
Boro reacted but couldn’t edge back in front before the break. Carayol earned a free kick on the cusp of the Watford area, which was nearly put to good use by Grant Leadbitter who forced an unconvincing save from Almunia who punched the ball to safety.
There was still time for one more chance at each end, for the visitors McGugan set up Daniel Pudil in the host’s box however the Czech international flashed his shot wide.
Minutes later Emnes’ delivered a cross from the left, where Kamara did well to steer his acrobatic scissor kick on target, forcing Almunia to scurry and save at his far post.
The second half was a much scrappier affair, where clear cut chances were hard to come by, Richard Smallwood’s speculative volley from the edge of the area flew well over the Watford cross bar, while the visitor’s best opportunity came when Sean Murray broke down the right, however his tame shot was always off target.
Boro claimed for a penalty when Gibson’s header from Leadbitter’s corner appeared to strike the hand of Gabriele Angella however appeals were turned down by referee Paul Tierney.
Forestieri registered the second half’s first shot on target after a neat Watford move, but the Italian’s low effort rolled kindly into Steele’s grasp.
With little to choose between the two sides it became questionable whether something would give. With just over twenty minutes to go Watford Manager Gianfranco Zola introduced former Boro loanee Josh McEachran which drew a mixed reception from the home crowd.
With seventeen minutes to go Boro found themselves to be their own worst enemy as they fell behind to the softest of goals. A mistake from Daniel Ayala, failing to make a routine clearance in Boro territory, was pounced upon by Forestieri who stole the ball from the defender before tucking it past the defenceless Steele.
It looked like it was going to be another game which slipped through Boro’s fingers and with twelve minutes to go Venus introduced Jacob Butterfield and Andy Haliday in desperate hope of an equaliser.
Five minutes from time it appeared the chance had gone when Leadbitter’s free kick was nodded back across goal by Ayala into Kamara’s path however his header was denied by Almunia at point blank range.
But Boro didn’t give up and were rewarded deep into to injury when Ayala redeemed himself for his earlier error out leaping the Watford defence to head home a last ditch goal from Leadbitter’s in swinging corner.
Jason Steele: 6.5 – Left defenceless for both goals, made a couple of saves when called upon.
Rhys Williams: 6.5 – Got forward to good effect, caught out a few times at right back .
Daniel Ayala: 6 – Mixed afternoon, made a critical mistake leading to Watford’s 2nd, but made amends with last minute equaliser.
Seb Hines: 5.5 – Carrying a slight injury, struggled to get to grips with Watford strikers Deeney and Forestieri.
Ben Gibson: 6 – Got caught out for the first goal at unfamiliar left back position.
Albert Adomah: 7.5 – Boro’s main threat charging down the right, netted his seventh goal of the season after brilliant Boro move.
Grant Leadbitter: 6.5 – Kept battling in scrappy second half, at times a bit too committed though.
Richard Smallwood: 6.5 – Worked continuously in midfield winning loose ball.
Mustapha Carayol: 6 – Made some promising runs but struggled to get the better of his full back.
Marvin Emnes: 7 – Posed a threat with energetic runs which created Boro chances.
Kei Kamara: 7 – Linked up well with midfield, made a good outlet up front.
Jacob Butterfield: 6 – Came on with 12 minutes to go, freshened up midfield, as he looked to move the ball forward
Andy Haliday: 6 – Came on with 12 minutes to go but saw little of the ball on the left wing
George Friend – Replaced Hines with 2 minutes to go as Boro pushed for an equaliser
My Boro Man Of The Match: Albert Adomah
Joe Nicholson (joe_nicholson96)