Post by Football News on Jan 14, 2017 17:09:34 GMT
Watford 0-0 Middlesbrough
Graham Taylor was warmly remembered by the club that made his name and whose name he helped to make, Sadly for Watford and their emotional crowd, the fare on the field was eminently forgettable as the match ended in a goalless draw.
Before the match hundreds gathered by a memorial of bright yellow flowers, and hundreds of equally bright shirts to pay respect to their great departed manager. With Taylor’s wife, Rita, and two daughters in attendance, the teams entered the field to Taylor’s favourite song, Buddy Holly’s Raining In My Heart. Before the match there was a flash of red and yellow foils in the Rookery Stand that spelled out ‘Heart GT’. The big screens played footage from Taylor’s two spells in charge at the club, in the 1980s and the noughties. There were messages of condolence scrolling along the hoardings. Finally, there was that unstinting minute’s applause, rounded out with chants in praise of the man. “We love you Graham Taylor” was a consistent refrain. You could feel that love.
There was some pressure on the players to match up to that but, in the first half, they got nowhere near. There was physical effort from Walter Mazzarri’s Watford side but very little indeed in the way of inspiration.
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, were happy to do what they always do away from home: stay compact and strong. Aitor Karanka took one further precaution by choosing to match up Watford’s 3-5-2 formation, adding Colombian Bernardo Espinosa alongside Callum Chambers and Ben Gibson in defence.
The first of few first-half chances fell to Watford and Etienne Capoue. The Hornets’ leading scorer has lost his goal touch of late, failing to score in his past nine games before this one. In the ninth minute he found himself one on one with Victor Valdes after a long ball had sprung the Boro back line, but when your luck is out it’s out and the ball failed to come down in time for the Frenchman before Valdes had time to come out and smother the shot.
Three minutes later and Boro had a goal ruled out for offside, Cristhian Stuani having moved fractionally too early to run onto Alvaro Negredo’s flick. It was one of two opportunities for Boro in the half and the second followed precisely the same combination. This time Stuani was able to read his strike partner’s header but could only loft his shot onto the roof of the net from a difficult angle.
Watford were just as lacking in incision, seemingly most effective when countering on their visitors, but lacking the true pace to trouble Gibson and co. They did craft one more opportunity through the strength and incongruous technique of the gangling Stefano Okaka, but his cross shot was worked clear by Chambers.
At half time Luther Blissett came on to speak about a man he called ‘a father’ and recall the glory years of Vicarage Road when promotion to the first division was followed by European football and an FA Cup final. “I owe everything to Graham Taylor”, he said, “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Watford needed to up their game, and not just because of the occasion. Four points from the past 21 had seen them sucked back to the fringes of a relegation battle. Within three minutes of the restart they should have claimed the lead they craved, after José Holebas’s cross sailed over the Boro defence and found Christian Kabasele at the far post. The makeshift wing-back must not have anticipated the ball getting beyond his marker George Friend because, even left in time and space, he could only prod a limp header wide.
Two minutes later Stefano Okaka headed a free kick into the arms of Valdes and it looked like Watford might get a grip in the game. But the very next minute they handed the ball to Boro on the edge of their own box and Heurelho Gomes had to paw Fábio Da Silva’s shot away while feet off his line. The Brazilian looked to have injured himself making the save and was withdrawn after 65 minutes.
Karanka brought on Rudy Gestede for his debut and Mazzarri did the same for Tom Cleverley in the hope of somehow shifting the balance. Gestede shot just over from range with 10 minutes remaining. Then Cleverley came the closest of any player to breaking the deadlock when his side foot shot from a clever Deeney header came back off the post. With just three minutes remaining Deeney was presented with the best chance of the match but, one on one with Valdes just as Okaka had been, he failed to finish.