Watford are chasing automatic promotion to the Premier League but face a tricky trip to The Riverside on Easter Monday. Mark O'Haire previews the Hornets' encounter with Middlesbrough.
"The Hornets have registered W14-D2-L3 to cement their place in the automatic promotion hunt, whilst underlying performance data suggests the hosts have been the division’s most dominant and best performing side over their past 16 games"
Middlesbrough v Watford
Monday April 5, 12:30
Middlesbrough's top-six dreams die
Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock admits the Teessiders' slim play-off hopes were ended with defeat at Bournemouth - but the Boro boss was enthused by his side's display on the south coast. The Reds suffered their second successive defeat as they went down 3-1, a loss which left them six points shy of the top-six having played a game more.
Duncan Watmore gave Boro hope in the second half when he cancelled out Phillip Billing's opener, but the joy was short-lived, Jefferson Lerma and Dominic Solanke striking to wrap up the points for the Cherries and to leave Warnock accepting defeat in the battle for a play-off spot, and instead turning his attention towards the 2021/22 campaign.
Warnock named an attacking line-up with a front four of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Yannick Bolasie, Neeskens Kebano and Duncan Watmore, but Middlesbrough again lacked the presence of a targetman striker. And the Teessiders misery was compounded by the news key duo Dael Fry and Marcus Tavernier will be absent for the foreseeable few weeks.
Watford enhance automatic promotion prospects
Watford head coach Xisco Munoz praised his team's battling ability after overseeing the Hornets' valuable 1-0 victory at home to struggling Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday. The hosts took an early lead when Tom Lees slid Ismaila Sarr's low cross into his own goal but there was little else to divide the two sides in what was ultimately an unattractive game.
However, the win widened the gap between Watford in second and Swansea and Brentford in third and fourth, while also narrowing the gap between themselves and Norwich in top spot, who were pegged back by Preston. And speaking post-match, Munoz was keen to highlight his side's mentality for grinding out the three points at Vicarage Road.
Munoz said, "It was not our good performance but I can say it was excellent, the mentality of our players. I think they understand perfect our game. They were very strong mentally because we had a very good opponent. I think they played very well, but the most important thing is all of our players gave more for the team."
Watford have a strong recent record when taking on Middlesbrough in league action. The Hornets are unbeaten in their last eight encounters with Boro (W5-D3-L0) since 2012, and have kept the Teessiders scoreless in the most recent four head-to-head meetings. The Hertfordshire outfit have posted W2-D2-L0 in their last four trips to The Riverside.
Middlesbrough 3.3512/5 have won back-to-back home league games, having won just one of their previous seven at The Riverside (W1-D1-L5). The hosts have returned W2-D3-L2 when welcoming sides above them in the table to Teesside, although Neil Warnock's recent comments, combined with injury issues, makes Boro unappealing outsiders.
Watford 2.3811/8 have been one of the division's form sides since Xisco Munoz was brought in. The Hornets have registered W14-D2-L3 to cement their place in the automatic promotion hunt, whilst underlying performance data suggests the hosts have been the division's most dominant and best performing side over their past 16 games, highlighting their threat.
Reading are the only top-eight visitors to fail to score at The Riverside this season with Both Teams To Score 2.021/1 banking in five of those seven showdowns. The same selection has paid out in four of Middlesbrough's past six home league fixtures as Neil Warnock's outfit have fired only five blanks when hosting Championship action in 2020/21.
Enhancing that record won't be easy with Watford largely dominating in defence. The Hornets boast 11 shutouts in their past 19 Championship contests, and 15 clean sheets in 27 going further back. That's meant goal-heavy games have been reasonably hard to come by - BTTS banking in only 7/19 (37%) Watford matches since Christmas.
Instead of pushing a goals play, I'll keep things simple for Easter Monday and support Watford in their quest for a 12th Championship success in 13 outings, and 15th win in 20 league fixtures since Xisco Munoz arrived.
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