Watford failed to produce a winning end to an emotional week as they were held to a frustrating 0-0 stalemate by Premier League strugglers Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road.
English football was rocked by the sudden passing of Watford great Graham Taylor – one of the club’s most successful managers – on Thursday, at the age of 72.
But despite a moving tribute to Taylor before kick-off, and in the 73rd minute, Watford failed to transfer that emotion into a positive result.
Walter Mazzarri’s side, who headed into Saturday’s clash having taken just one point from their last five league fixtures, were second best for much of an underwhelming first half, though they did improve after the interval.
Middlesbrough, who had a goal ruled out early on, contained the hosts well for the most part, though Watford substitute Tom Cleverley, on his second debut for the club, hit the woodwork late on.
The result extends Watford’s winless streak in the league to six matches, and keeps both sides in danger of being dragged into a relegation scrap.
Taylor spent 15 seasons as Watford manager over two separate spells at Vicarage Road, and the home faithful – along with the travelling Middlesbrough support – paid a fitting tribute to the former England boss prior to kick-off.
Despite a confident start from Middlesbrough, Aitor Karanka’s side should have been behind 10 minutes in.
With the benefit of a fortunate deflection, Etienne Capoue found himself one-on-one with Victor Valdes, but Watford’s top-scorer could not apply the finish from close range.
Cristhian Stuani thought he had made Watford pay for Capoue’s miss moments later, but his tap-in was correctly disallowed for offside.
Watford grew into the encounter, and Valdes was twice called into action as the half-hour mark approached, denying Abdoulaye Doucoure and Stefano Okaka respectively.
Okaka almost turned provider soon after when he crossed for Troy Deeney, but Calum Chambers was well-positioned to clear before, at the other end, Stuani lofted a clever effort onto the roof of the net as the half finished goalless.
Mazzarri’s side should have been ahead after the restart, Christian Kabasele heading wide before Valdes again denied Okaka.
Watford continued to press, and Capoue almost made amends for his earlier miss with a sublime effort from the edge of the area, only for the ball to curl just wide.
Rudy Gestede came on to make his Middlesbrough debut shortly after, while Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was forced off with a back injury.
Doucoure should have given Watford the lead with just under 20 minutes remaining, but he somehow directed his header off-target from point-blank range after connecting with Kabasele’s cross.
Watford could well have been awarded a penalty when Okaka went down under pressure from George Friend, only for Jonathan Moss to dismiss the appeals.
Cleverley had been introduced shortly before that incident, and the Everton loanee wasted no time in getting involved – hitting the post from close-range before teeing up Deeney, whose effort was well-saved by Valdes as Watford had to settle for a share of the spoils.
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