Middlesbrough verdict: How Neil Warnock's side managed to nullify Watford's attacking threat despite attacking limitations
ANALYSIS: Joe Nicholson assesses Middlesbrough’s 1-1 draw with Watford at the Riverside.
For 78 minutes, Middlesbrough’s attacking limitations were clear for all to see.
When Yannick Bolasie headed Neil Warnock’s side level, converting Paddy McNair’s free-kick, it was the Teessiders’ first effort on target. Still, it was enough to salvage a point.
How Warnock will wish his side can sign a natural centre forward who can convert more of those opportunities and give them a focal point next season.
Boro’s promotion hopes may have petered out this term after a challenging few weeks, which has seen them lose at Millwall and Bournemouth while losing key players to injury.
Even so, this 1-1 draw against a Watford side second in the table, after Ismaila Sarr’s opener, will at least give Warnock some satisfaction.
Boro huffed and puffed after falling behind due to some sloppy defending.
Still, they kept going until the end.
Buoyed by six consecutive victories which had propelled them into the automatic promotion places, Watford expectedly dominated possession from the off.
In Sarr, Joao Pedro and Ken Sema, the Hornets’ forward line possessed pace and quality, yet Boro managed to keep Xisco Munoz’s side at arm’s length until the 32nd minute.
An injury to Sam Morsy midway through the first half hindered the Teessiders, with the Egyptian helping break up play in midfield.
Boro were passive in the first half, though, and some sloppy defending eventually saw them fall behind.
Jonny Howson and Marc Bola both failed to clear the danger and when Philip Zinckernagael’s shot deflected in off Sarr, replays showed that Djed Spence and Darnell Fisher had played the Watford man onside.
Despite threatening briefly at the start of the second half, Boro continued to struggle in the final third until a couple of late substitutions.
Bolasie’s introduction 17 minutes from time paid off as the winger headed home McNair’s inviting free-kick.
Warnock made two changes to the side which was beaten by Bournemouth last time out, with George Saville and Spence replacing Bolasie and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Those changes were intended to give Boro more defensive security, yet they also meant there was little attacking intent.
With Duncan Watmore once again operating as a central striker, Boro wingers Spence and Neeskens Kebano struggling to support.
Watford midfielders Zinckernagel and Nathaniel Chalobah also created overloads on the flanks as the Teessiders were pinned back in the first half.
When Hayden Coulson replaced the injured Morsy on 27 minutes, the former moved into a No 10 position to try and support Watmore.
The substitution had attacking intentions, yet Coulson didn’t look a natural fit for the role.
With Fry set to miss the next few weeks with a calf injury, Grant Hall and McNair have become even more important.
The centre-back pair kept Watford striker Joao Pedro fairly quiet, while McNair’s free-kick led to Bolasie’s equaliser.
Boro will face another side fighting for promotion when they travel to Barnsley at the weekend.
With six games to go, Warnock will now have one eye on who is in his plans for next season.