It wasn’t pretty, but it worked as Watford earned its third win of the season behind an absolute peach of a goal from Jose Holebas shortly after halftime.
Watford did most of its damage on the break as its pace and directive down the flanks proved effective in breaking down the defensively stout Middlesbrough.
The first half was a chippy affair with plenty of fouls but few true chances on net. The opening 20 minutes was all Middlesbrough, with the hosts holding nearly 70% of the possession as the clock ticked towards halftime. There were few true efforts on goal, but they worked a solid chance on 25 minutes with Stewart Downing firing just wide after a popped-up ball fell in his lap.
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Middlesbrough could consider themselves lucky past the half-hour mark as Antonio Barrigan, already booked nine minutes prior, hauled down Isaac Success on the break, but was not given his marching orders by referee Roger East. The resulting free-kick was the best chance of the half for the visitors, but neither Holebas nor Younes Kaboul could get a head to the dangerous delivery.
Success, on his full debut for the club after five substitute appearances, proved bright on the counter-attack, drawing a host of fouls that put Middlesbrough in danger. Cristhian Stuani was also lucky to stay on the field, already having been booked when he kicked Success in the chest with an errant boot just after halftime.
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After 54 minutes, the game sprung to life suddenly. Out of nothing, a wonder strike from Holebas put Watford in front. Success went down in the penalty area screaming for the referee to point to the spot, and with Roger East not biting, the clearance fell to the feet of Holebas outside the penalty area, who ripped a screamer into the top corner of the net.
The game exploded open as Watford continued to counter with pace. Success remained dangerous, and again Barrigan got away with hacking down the Nigerian on the touchline as Watford looked to counter past the hour mark, with what again seemed a card-worthy incident went completely unpunished. The Spaniard was immediately withdrawn by Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka along with the booked Stuani.
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Boro would finish the match with 64% of possession, but couldn’t do much at all with it, putting 10 shots towards Watford’s net, but only three on target. They also racked up a whopping 15 fouls and four yellow cards, proving to be their undoing. The win for the visitors pushed them into the top half of the table on 11 points, while Middlesbrough remained on eight points. Watford’s clean sheet is also its first of the season.