A DEFENSIVE shocker which very nearly cost the home side the game, a bullet header at the death which rescued a point.
Daniel Ayala’s last gasp equaliser spared his own blushes and ensured Mark Venus avoided his second consecutive defeat in his current caretaker role as Watford visited the Riverside.
Venus has now tasted every eventuality in management. A win, a loss and a draw.
Yet despite only being the gaffer in the dugout for three games, he has already witnessed the uncertain and at times shambolic defending and individual mistakes which have cost Boro numerous points already this campaign and ultimately assisted in costing Tony Mowbray his job.
Norwich loanee Ayala was the latest addition to the list.
With the score poised at 1-1 and neither team looking overly threatening in a dire second half, Ayala, as the last man, inexplicably tried to turn inside and in doing so lost possession to Fernando Forestieri. The Argentine did the rest.
Credit to Ayala. If a defender who committed a mistake made amends in the other box on every occasion this season Middlesbrough would undoubtedly find themselves in the higher reaches of the Championship.
And with virtually the last touch of the game, the towering centre back did exactly that with a powerful header ensuring the spoils would be shared.
Venus admitted both he and Ayala were relieved to get a point, but praised the defender for how he reacted to the error.
“He’s got to be relieved,” said Seaton Carew-born Venus.
“He showed a lot of character and he goes up and heads it in at the end so I’m really pleased for him.
“That’s two goals now for him so that’s good.
“I was pretty relieved.
“Once again we started really well, we went ahead and we deserved to go ahead.
“They equalised and then obviously the mistake and then you’re chasing the game against what I think is a good team.
“But again we kept at it, we kept trying and then the big man went up and got his head on it and got us back in the game which is great for him.”
Venus has spoke of the need to stop making the individual errors, to do the “basic things better”.
Whether he will be the man tasked with the responsibility on a full-time basis still remains to be seen.
And as 16th placed Boro go into a two-week international break ahead of the trip to Leeds United, Venus still stopped short of throwing his hat into the ring to make his caretaker role a permanent one - but did admit he would like “more time” in charge.
Whoever replaces Tony Mowbray will take on a group of players who have the ability to hurt teams in the final third.
A fortnight after a battered Doncaster left the Riverside with no wish to come back any time soon, the front pronged-four of Muzzy Carayol, Albert Adomah, Marvin Emnes and captain for the day Kei Kamara again looked dangerous on Saturday.
In fact, they were all involved in the first goal of the game on 24 minutes.
Considering the two teams on show both like to get the ball down and play the game on the deck, the Championship tie was a surprisingly scrappy affair.
But the opener was a thing of beauty.
After Grant Leadbitter won possession fairly in a midfield tussle, Carayol picked up the loose ball and laid it into the mercurial feet of Marvin Emnes. The number 10 jinked inside two before introducing strike partner Kei Kamara into the move. Fast-arriving full back Rhys Williams latched on to Kamara’s perfectly weighted through ball before a classy back heel to the in-form Albert Adomah who beat Manuel Almunia at his front post.
It was as good a goal as the 14,344 at the Riverside have seen so far this year and it came after a promising start.
Venus had reverted back to the system that saw off Doncaster and made three changes to the team that started at Blackburn last week. Muzzy Carayol came in for Jozsef Varga while Ben Gibson replaced George Friend at left back and Seb Hines stepped in for skipper Jonathan Woodgate who was forced out with injury.
But the fragility in the back-line was clear to see from the off.
Boro had plenty of the ball. Watford were happy to let to hosts have the ball - and the visitors looked dangerous on the break.
The impressive Lewis McGugan floated forward on the counter in the 12th minute. His through ball inside left-back Ben Gibson found its way to Davide Faraouni but Steele, called into the action for the first time, reacted well and saved smartly.
Five minutes later and former Forest dangerman McGugan again found himself in space on the break after a Boro corner was cleared. The number 10 could have perhaps gone alone but unselfishly tried to tee up Troy Deeney who was inches short of latching on to the through ball.
It was a sign of what was to come.
Rather than building on the opener Boro were pegged back just eight minutes after they had gone ahead. A long hopeful punt forward from Marco Cassetti beat all of the flat-footed Boro defenders and landed at the feet of dangerman Deeney who easily slid the ball underneath the oncoming Jason Steele.
The second period was dull and of few chances.
Adomah and Carayol threatened down the flanks but the home side failed to create any clear-cut openings.
And with 17 minutes left Watford stole the initiative when Forestieri stole the ball of Ayala. He turned the defender again as Ayala tried to make a last ditch tackle before tucking the ball into the corner of the net. It was the first time the Hornets had buzzed around the Boro penalty area in the second half.
The subsequent decision to replace Carayol and Emnes with Halliday and Butterfield didn’t receive the warmest of receptions.
Neither had former Boro loanee Josh McEachran when he was introduced five minutes earlier.
The only chance Boro fashioned in the final minutes was a point-blank Kamara header stopped well by Almunia.
That was until the 93rd minute when Ayala climbed highest and headed home Leadbitter’s corner to steal a point for the home side which they will feel they probably deserved.