- Jose Holebas stunner the difference between the sides
- Britos comes off injured for Watford
- Hornets earn first clean sheet of the season
- Golden Boys move into the top half of the Premier League
A moment of genuine quality from match-winner Jose Holebas decided an otherwise scrappy encounter in front of the Sky Sports cameras at the Riverside Stadium.
In the week the Greek wide-man announced his retirement from the international game, Holebas’ trusty left-foot was to thank once again as an unstoppable rocket from fully 25 yards condemned Middlesbrough to a 1-0 defeat, their third loss on home turf in succession.
Much has been made of Watford’s lack of clean-sheets thus far this term, but that unwanted run was put to bed this afternoon, with a superb defensive team effort throughout ensuring the Hornets’ first shut-out in eight games since the start of 2016/17.
A welcome three points move the Hornets into the top-half of the Premier League table, with a trip to Swansea City to prepare for now next weekend.
Walter Mazzarri handed a first Watford start to summer signing Isaac Success, who scored after his introduction from the bench against Bournemouth last time out.
Odion Ighalo was the man to make way in attack, with defender Miguel Britos also returning from injury to replace Camilo Zuniga.
Boro enjoyed the early chances, Stewart Downing lashing wide on the volley, then Gaston Ramirez dragging the wrong side of the far post after a neat one-two with Alvaro Negredo inside the opening 10 minutes.
The hosts were certainly the side on the front-foot, and ex-England international Downing went close once more in the 25th minute, firing a right-footed shot wide from an angle just inside the box.
Boro right-back Antonio Barragan was a tad fortunate to escape a second yellow card, hauling Success down with half-an-hour played, having already entered referee Roger East’s book 10 minutes previous for a very similar offence.
Ben Gibson swung a speculative effort wide from nearly 35 yards after Sebastian Prödl’s headed clearance, then Heurelho Gomes made a comfortable save from Negredo’s volley on the turn as the first-half ended without a goal.
The second-half started in much the same vein as the first, with Watford struggling to get out of their own half. Adam Forshaw side-footed straight at Gomes, then Stuani chested and fired wide of the near post.
But Watford’s first shot on target was to materialise in the 54th minute, and it resulted in the game’s first goal. Holebas dispossessed Stuani before firing a stunning strike into the top corner from 25 yards, beating Victor Valdes at his near post through sheer power and precision.
George Friend’s 68th-minute in-swinging cross was an inviting one and Negredo got his head to it, but the ex-Man City striker nodded into the ground and Gomes was on-hand to gather.
Zuniga was Mazzarri’s first substitution with 20 minutes to go, replacing Amrabat on the right-flank with the Moroccan international on a booking.
As ever, Success was proving a handful down the left-hand side, and when the Nigerian attacker stepped inside Calum Chambers and fired in a powerful shot it was straight into Valdes’ palms.
Six minutes of stoppage time were added at the end, meaning some classic backs-to-the-wall defending was required from the Golden Boys, not helped by an injury to Britos late on which meant Christian Kabasele was thrown right into the heat of the action.
Ben Watson also replaced Success in the closing stages, providing further assistance to the Hornets’ rear-guard, and they successfully saw the game out to clinch their third win of the campaign.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Kaboul, Prödl, Britos (Kabasele, 85); Amrabat (Zuniga, 71), Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Pereyra, Success (Watson, 89); Deeney (c).
Subs not used: Pantilimon (GK), Mariappa, Guedioura, Ighalo.
Goal: Holebas (54)
Yellow card: Amrabat (64)
BORO: Valdes (GK); Barragan (Ayala, 69), Chambers, Gibson, Friend (c); De Roon (Rhodes, 88), Forshaw; Stuani (Traore, 69), Ramirez, Downing; Negredo.
Subs not used: Guzan (GK), Espinosa, Clayton, Fischer.
Yellow cards: Barragan (20), Stuani (38), Ramirez (42), De Roon (77)
Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 28,131 (882 Watford fans)