MIDDLESBROUGH recovered from their midweek loss at Wolves with a well earned 1-1 draw against Watford at the Riverside.
It was second against third in what proved to be a very exciting game for the neutrals with both teams carving out great chances to win the game.
Boro once again made four changes which seems to be a running theme under Aitor Karanka.
Jelle Vossen, Kenneth Omeruo, Adam Reach and the suspended Grant Leadbitter were dropped in place of Kike, Lee Tomlin, Adam Clayton and Ben Gibson.
Hureleo Gomes was injured in the warm-up and was so replaced by Jonathan Bond in goal while Almen Abdi was out with a knock.
There was a sense of expectation around the Riverside as both teams were boasting a good run of forms with one defeat in eight games for Watford and Middlesbrough.
Watford had the better of the two teams in recent meetings as they won the last game 1-0 back at Vicarage Road in February.
The game had a very cagey start but Boro started to get to grips with keeping possession of the ball after 20 minutes.
As it has been for Boro in recent games, their man attacking threat was coming down the flanks with George Friend and Ryan Fredericks getting a lot of the ball.
Patrick Bamford spurned the best chance of the half as a low ball from Friend saw the ball get stuck under his feet in the box and the keeper hooked the ball away.
The referee was not the most popular man of the Boro crowd as he wasn’t afraid to dip into his notebook cautioning Daniel Ayala for a late challenge.
It was Fernando Forestieri’s turn as he synically handled the ball in an attempt to keep it out of play. Yellow for him.
Dangerman Matej Vydra carved out Watford’s only opportunity as his curling shot was parried away by Dimi Konstantopoulos.
Two headed opportunities for Kike sailed over the bar but the Smoggies were left frustrated as they should have been in front.
Boro seized the initiative straight into the next 45 minutes as Fredericks curling shot sailed marginally wide of the post.
Bamford, who was playing out of his comfort zone on the right hand side, was causing Watford all kinds of problems cutting inside on his favoured left foot.
And his efforts paid dividends as a neat interchange between Fredericks and Clayton allowed the midfielder to slip in Bamford to the byline. He cut back to the grateful Kike who fired home for his sixth goal of the season. A well deserved lead.
Moments later, Bamford forced Bond into a brilliant reaction save as his neat footwork beat Joel Ekstrand and his shot with the outside of his foot was parried out. Kike was beaten to the follow-up by Norwich loanee Sebastien Bassong.
It was all happening in the second half as Vydra spurned a glorious chance to equalise spooning his shot over from close range.
Watford searched for a way back into the game as they threw on big man Troy Deeney in place of the already booked Forestieri.
On 62 minutes, it was Deeney himself who dragged his team back into the game as a cut back from Daniel Tozser found him in the area and he fired home to make it 1-1.
They brought on Keith Andrews for Odion Ighalo suggesting they were going to sit back and frustrate Boro by being difficult to break down.
Watford almost completed a quick turnaround as a whipped free kick into the box found the head of Ekstrand and he directed the ball off the outside of the post.
Boro got a hold of the ball again and it was either teams game to win as they threw on Vossen and Reach for Bamford and Tomlin by the 82nd minute.
The game was starting to peter out but it was still a nervy time as both teams knew it could be a big win.
But neither of them could carve out the winning goal as a pulsating game finished 1-1 which would be regarded as a fair result.
Aitor Karanka admitted after the game although Boro had chances, he was happy with a point against a good Watford side:
“We had made preparations before they game and they worked perfectly in the first half but we just needed a goal.
“We had one or two chances that we should have scored. Then we had a lot more in the second even after we scored.
“If just shows that if you don’t finish your chances against good teams in this league then you will get punished.”
Karanka praised the performance of Patrick Bamford but he insisted that the youngster can still improve:
“I am very pleased with his performance today and he showed great attitude playing out of position on the right-wing.
“But he can improve and we know that he is a player with a lot of potential.”
Goals: Middlesbrough 1-1 Watford
Goalscorers: Kike (49’), Deeney (61’)
Referee: James Adcock
Possession: Middlesbrough 51% – 49% Watford
Shots (on target): Middlesbrough 16 (3) – Watford 17 (3)
Corners: Middlesbrough 4 – 9 Watford
Fouls: Middlesbrough 17 – 7 Watford
Bookings: Middlesbrough (Ayala 34’, Whitehead 59’, Fredericks (90+2) – Watford (Forestieri 39’)
Unused subs (Boro): Husband, Omeruo, Wildschut, Veljkovic, Nsue
Unused subs (Watford): Doyley, Murray, Dyer, Hoban, Gilmartin
www.tside.co.uk Man of the Match: Patrick Bamford
Dimi Konstantopoulos – 6
Ryan Fredericks – 7
Ben Gibson – 7
Daniel Ayala – 6
George Friend – 6
Adam Clayton – 6
Dean Whitehead – 6
Patrick Bamford – 8
Albert Adomah – 7
Lee Tomlin – 7
Kike – 7
Subs: Reach (6), Vossen (5)