Watford vs Middlesbrough

The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from Middlesbrough’s opening day 1-0 defeat at Watford in the SkyBet championship.

Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough went down 1-0 at Vicarage Road on Friday night courtesy of a first half Craig Cathcart header. It looked like a tough opening game when the fixture list came out, and proved exactly that as Boro were held scoreless and the Hornets took all three points. Here, we look at what Warnock and his staff can take away from the game.

You can find a detailed game report on the official club website here.



Playing on the right side of a back three, Dijksteel showed athleticism and defensive strength, often coming out on top of 1v1 situations when he was forced to chase down wide balls. The lack of a fullback in a back three system puts an emphasis on pace in the defenders, something Boro lacked many times last season. If he continues to perform to this level, the Dutch defender will be one of the first names on Warnock’s team sheet as the season progresses.


A playmaker behind the front pair is a key component to success in any team, and Tavernier seems the best option to do that within the current squad. The midfielder showed energy and some quality on the ball as Boro huffed and puffed to break down a strong Watford back line.


Goalkeeper has been a weak position for Boro of late, and the debut of Marcus Bettinelli was a welcome sight to many fans. The former Fulham keeper could do little about Cathcart’s goal, and showed signs of being a solid addition to the squad.



New signing Hall played in the heart of the back three and again showed himself to be a strong aerial ball winner, it also seems Hall will be a target an attacking set plays. He was however beaten man for man by Cathcart for the game’s lone goal here, and accompanied by a couple of lapses against Shrewsbury Town in the EFL Cup it has been a less than ideal start for the new man.


Warnock has made clear his frustration at the lack of new signings completed to this point, though a quick google search will show you that this is no new phenomenon in his career.

It is a telling indicator of his opinion of the depth currently available to him that on the opening day, on the back of a shortened preseason he only introduced one substitute as Boro chased an equalizer when midfielder Lewis Wing replaced George Saville. Coincidentally, on the final day last season Wing was also the only substitute used by Warnock in a 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday.

It seems there is a distinct lack of players on the bench that Warnock trusts to make a difference in pressure situations. It is very likely that in the upcoming EFL Cup game at home to Barnsley a few players will be given a chance to elevate his opinion of them.

Beyond that, it is clear that Warnock and the club are still working hard to bolster the squad with fresh blood before the transfer window closes on October 5th.


Boro have played two games so far this season, and conceded from a corner in each of them. First a headed clearance that fell straight to Shrewsbury Town winger Jason Cummings to fire home, and here Hall was beaten man for man by Cathcart who then planted a header past Bettinelli. Warnock and Boro fans will be hoping this does not become a pattern throughout the season.



Watford manager Vladimir Ivic came into this game with more than his fair share of players unavailable.  Etienne Capoue, Gerard Deulofeu, Will Hughes, Daryl Janmaat, Isaac Success, Troy Deeney and Danny Welbeck were all missing. To be able to sustain those losses and still come away with three points, and still call upon Glenn Murray, a former Championship Golden Boot winner off the bench, likely marks Watford as a big promotion contender in the season ahead.

Watford have a good balance of experienced veterans to go along with dynamic 18 year old Brazilian forward Joao Pedro who produced an outstanding performance full of skill and flair. While Pedro led the attack, Watford’s veteran backline included full internationals from Northern Ireland (Cathcart) and Belgium (Christian Kabasele) as well as an England international goalkeeper in Ben Foster.  Meanwhile, former Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley captained the team in what was his 114th game for the club. 

If they reach the end of the transfer window without sustaining major losses, Ivic has a deep and talented squad to guide through the 2020/2021 campaign.


Watford showed good variety and execution in terms of their ability to create chances from corners. The game winning goal had an interesting wrinkle that had been set up earlier in the game as the video below shows. Early in the game, Domingos Quina and Ken Sema work a short corner routine. Later, the pair give the exact same look and appear to go short again causing the Boro defenders to lapse for a second and prepare for a later delivery into the area, but Sema this time whips in a quick cross for Cathcart to open the scoring.

The Hornets also used a clever pick play in the 29th minute to free up teenage forward Pedro for a free header that he guided wide.


Foster playing behind a back line of Cathcart, Kabasele and young Ben Wilmot is a strong unit at the Championship level. Wilmot spent last season at Swansea City and started in a 3-0 win at the Riverside Stadium last season in what turned out to be Jonathan Woodgate’s final game in charge of the Boro. The trio dealt well with Boro’s talented front pairing of Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher.

The Watford center backs also showed a good ability to drive forward in possession of the ball to create an extra man in midfield for Boro to deal with. This put a big workload on striker Assombalonga who had to track them, or as can be seen in the first clip Assombalonga when beaten would beckon a defender high, and potentially out of position to deal with the extra man.


15’ WAT Craig Cathcart (Ken Sema) 1-0


#15 CD Craig Cathcart (Watford) – Cathcart, a teammate of Saville and Paddy McNair with Northern Ireland scored the winning goal while also producing an excellent display on the defensive end.



3:  CD Craig Cathcart – Man of the Match.

2:  CF Joao Pedro – Dynamic forward who is full of tricks and likely to be a handful for Championship defenders all season.

1:  GK Ben Foster – Quality display from Foster who marshalled his back line well and provided a formidable barrier at set plays.


3:  CD Anfernee Dijksteel – Outstanding display from the Dutch defender who looked strong when Watford tried to play in the channel on his side.

2:  CF Britt Assombalonga – Hard working display from the captain who forced Foster into a save in each half, and won a late free kick that he got on the end of only to head off target.

1:  CM Marcus Tavernier – Energetic and bright display from a player looking to lock himself in as the attacking piece in Boro’s central midfield area.


WAT:  Foster, Kiko (Navarro), Wilmot, Kabasele, Cathcart, Ngakia, Sema (Murray), Chalobah, Cleverley, Quina (Philips), Pedro.

MID:  Bettinelli, McNair, Hall, Dijksteel, Johnson, Tavernier, Spence, Saville (Wing), Howson, Fletcher, Assombalonga.


Highlights of the game can be found on the club website here.

About the Author

Picture of Stewart Flaherty

Stewart Flaherty

Stewart is a native of Middlesbrough, England, and is a graduate of Loughborough University with a master's degree in sport psychology. Stewart has coached at both USL2 and the elite level of youth football in the USA, alongside building an extensive career in college soccer and currently works with a NCAA Division 1 Men's soccer program.

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