Heading into their clash against Middlesbrough, Watford were nine points clear of Brentford and Swansea City in 3rd and 4th place. A win would have sent Watford 12 points clear of their automatic-promotion rivals – albeit the Hornets would have played two more matches. However, the result at the Riverside Stadium gives the Bees and the Swans a chance to slowly reel the Hornets back in. As for the Watford promotion push, doubts have been cast.
Watford Promotion Hopes Dented in Draw
Middlesbrough Take Advantage of Slow Watford
The high-octane attacking football of Watford from before the international break was absent for the second successive match. Against Sheffield Wednesday, the Hornets were able to pick up three points despite a largely disappointing performance. The same fate did not occur a second time.
Watford took the lead in the 32nd minute thanks to a far-from-pretty Ismaila Sarr goal. Winter-signing Philip Zinckernagel, the key to much of Watford’s success going forward in the first half, struck the ball from distance. Sarr was standing in the right place at the right time to cause a wicked deflection to guide the ball into the back of the net. The Middlesbrough players appealed for an offside call but, upon replay, two defenders were keeping Sarr onside.
The rest of the match saw Middlesbrough slowly but surely work their way back. The wide play Xisco Munoz demands from his team did not come to the fore. Kiko Femenia and Sarr were kept quiet on the right-wing. Ken Sema and Adam Masina on the left were even more absent. 19-year-old Joao Pedro looked off the pace after starting despite hobbling off with an injury just three days earlier.
Watford Draw Makes Promotion Prospects Slightly More Uncertain
Watford are still certainly favourites to claim the second automatic promotion spot. However, a chance at creating further daylight and pressure on their rivals was passed upon.
A draw away from home against a respectable Middlesbrough side is not the worst of results. Upon conclusion of the match, the Hornets were ten points clear of the two teams below them. Even if both won their matches in hand, a four-point gap with six matches remaining would still be a formidable block for the Hornets to hold onto.
But, nonetheless, the draw gives Brentford and Swansea the extra bit of hope that they can claw back into the top two. After all, with both sides facing Watford in the final two matches, a four-point gap is not so safe.
Anything can happen between now and the end of the season. The Hornets might use this deflating draw as fuel for the rest of the season – as they did with their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth. Perhaps Swansea and Brentford fail to capitalise on Watford’s dropped points.
Still, with everything to play for in the closing stages of the season, the dropped points will feel of more weight now than before. Watford’s draw was not catastrophic for their automatic-promotion hopes. It just makes the final run-in that extra bit more interesting and volatile. The ball remains in the Hornets’ pitch to control their own destiny.
Embed from Getty Images