A landmark day for Troy Deeney but, more importantly, a milestone win for Watford.
Watford have struggled against the leading sides all season but the way they deposed Middlesbrough at the top today, albeit for two hours, will raise belief it could be their year at Vicarage Road.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side made light work of their promotion rivals here, with Deeney and strike partner Odion Ighalo seeing them home to lay down a marker.
Deeney, the Watford captain, became their first player to score 20 goals in three successive seasons – not bad at a club who have seen the likes of Luther Blissett and John Barnes come and go down the years. Those heady days, besides a yo-yo flirtation with the Premier League, seem light years ago. But that could be about to change.
“That was probably our best performance of the season because we produced it at such an important time,” said Deeney. “But we’ve got to do it for another five games.”
If they can replicate these levels then Watford will be confident of bypassing the play-offs for the top two and automatic promotion.
Watford finished the day in third after Bournemouth and Norwich overhauled them, but Jokanovic said: “Troy is a Premier League player – the question is whether we’re a Premier League team.
“I decided many months ago and I didn’t want to talk about where we’ll end the season. There are 15 points in front of us and I prefer to think about the next game. We must be prepared and we don’t have space to be arrogant and think we have easy games ahead.”
Middlesbrough’s new-look back four, including two debutants, never looked settled. Yet it was the old heads who slipped up to giftwrap Deeney’s 37th-minute opener. Adlene Guedioura’s deep cross was misjudged by Jonathan Woodgate and Deeney slipped the ball under Dimi Konstanpolous for the landmark strike.
The breakthrough in a tight game was always going to be vital and as Boro wilted in the sun Watford grew stronger.
Ighalo made Woodgate look foolish again as he dummied before firing a 65th-minute shot that Konstanpolous could have kept out. There was no way back for Boro, who threatened only when substitute Kike forced Heurelho Gomes into a late save.
The Boro manager, Aitor Karanka, insisted his side remain well placed. “We are a team who have had an amazing season,” he said. “Nobody could have expected us to be in this position. But we have to keep going and we will fight to the last second. The players are distraught but they have my trust and pride.”
Watford (4-4-2): Gomes; Parades, Cathcart (Connolly, 60), Angella, Hoban; Guedioura (Layun, 90), Towser, Watson, Anya; Deeney, Ighalov (Vydra, 69). Substitutes not used Bond (gk), Munari, Pudil, Abdi.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Konstantopoulos; Tiendalli (Kallas, 63), Amorebieta, Woodgate, Friend; Adomah, Leadbitter, Clayton (Forshaw, 84), Reach; Tomlin (Kike, 62), Bamford. Substitutes not used Ripley (gk), Gibson, Whitehead, Vossen.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).Reuse content