Hornets find the right formula
THE play-offs caused Watford plenty of heartbreak last season, but you won’t find anyone at Vicarage Road complaining if the current campaign ends in another end-of-season shoot out.
A third win in the last four league games took the Hornets back into the top half of the table and within six points of the playoff places, and with a trip to bottom club Yeovil coming up on Tuesday, Beppe Sannino’s side can justifiably target a return trip to Wembley after last year’s playoff final ended in defeat to Crystal Palace.
They have leapfrogged Middlesbrough, who have now gone more than eight hours without scoring as their own play-off hopes have faded since the turn of the year.
Troy Deeney’s penalty inflicted the Teessiders’ latest defeat in a game that ended with both sides playing with ten men following the second-half dismissals of Samba Diakite and Ben Gibson.
Sannino said: “I think we have to be happy as a club about the results and the performances that the lads are showing to us.
“My players know that we can still improve, but since I joined the club, the players have adapted very quickly to the right mentality in terms of how they have to be on the pitch together. As men, not only as football players.
“I’m not watching the table – I’m watching what we are doing in the games, and that means we are able to move up the table. This victory enables us to go to Yeovil in good spirit and we need to enjoy the three points and keep going.”
Watford initially struggled to find their rhythm, but Middlesbrough failed to translate their first-half dominance in terms of possession into a goal threat.
Former Tottneham Hotspur defender Jonathan Woodgate had a goal disallowed for offside, before the hosts broke the deadlock from the penal- ty spot four minutes after the break. Fernando Forestieri galloped clear into the left-hand side of the penalty area, only for his run to be halted by a reckless sliding challenge from Gibson.
Deeney stepped up to dispatch the penalty, but Watford were reduced to ten men three minutes later when Diakite made an over-the-ball challenge on Dean Whitehead.
It was ten-against-ten shortly after as Gibson received a second yellow card for attempting to prevent goalkeeper Jonathan Bond from clearing, and while Danny Graham came close with a stoppage-time header, Watford never really looked like ceding their advantage.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka said: “I’m disappointed because this was a game that we had to win.We had the game under control in the first 30 minutes, but after that, I don't really know what happened.
“We lost the game, lost a player and lost our identity. We lost a lot of things.We had a lot of possession, but that is not what wins the games.
“You need goals to do that, and in the last five games now, we have not scored goals. If you don’t score goals, then it is not possible to win.
“I don’t think it’s confidence. I think it’s about work, and maybe some players starting to think now that they are better than they are.”
SPOT ON: Troy Deeney scores the only goal of the game for Watford with a penalty
MATCH WINNER: Troy
STAR MAN MARCO CASSETTI Watford