Watford won, finally, but against this opposition, it would have been a major failure if they had not . Middlesbrough were so poor that they were flattered by this result and Gareth Southgate clearly has a huge problem to overcome if his first foray into management is not to end in tears.
While Adrian Boothroyd was a blur of instructions and orders, the former Middlesbrough and England defender looked on in forlorn isolation, scratched his head and sometimes clapped his hands. Eschewing the blood-and-thunder style of touchline management for a more thoughtful approach is fine when a team are winning, but there are times when the "hair-dryer" school is required.
"We have now lost at Reading, Sheffield United and at Watford, so we have given all three promoted clubs their first wins of the season - and that tells me something," said Southgate. "The players know how I feel, but I am not going to hang anyone out to dry. We win together and we lose together."
To those who questioned his character and suggested that he is too nice a man to be involved in the murky hurly-burly of football management, Southgate replied: "People don't know me. They think they do and they have their opinions. But they don't know me. I am determined to make this work and to take this football club forward."
Luckily for Jonathan Woodgate, he was not mentioned by name despite an individual display that was a shocking travesty of a performance. His lack of touch and confidence alongside the statuesque, if muscular, Robert Huth, was the root cause of this defeat - a fact that raises questions about Southgate's judgement of players as well as his man management.
Southgate clearly has intelligence and ability, but other qualities are required in a dressing room where he was once a player. And, given that he was the man who pointed out that Sven Goran Eriksson was more akin to Iain Duncan-Smith than Sir Winston Churchill when it came to inspirational words, it was surprising that he adopted such a touchy-feely style after this defeat. When he followed Boothroyd into the post-match briefing, substance and style were the words that jumped to mind.
The match was abysmal. Watford played their well-drilled football with a precision and commitment that swept a muddled Middlesbrough aside with ease, the impressive Hameur Bouazza firing in a shot that led to the opening goal after only six minutes and Ashley Young adding the second on the hour.
Both goals came from mistakes, the first a poor defensive header by Woodgate who then deflected Bouazza's shot past Mark Schwarzer for an own goal, the second a daft header towards his defence by George Boateng that set Young free to roll his shot beyond the goalkeeper, who made many fine saves.
To their credit, Watford played their own game with belief and purpose, though it was hardly pleasing on the eye. Boothroyd, who revealed that his top scorer, Marlon King, will be out with cartilage problems for the rest of the season, oozed the kind of no-nonsense pragmatism that his team embodied. To win, without King, he said proved something important. "Now we have to build on it," he said. "Otherwise it is all wasted."
Southgate, surveying his own wasteland, could only shake his head.Reuse content