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Matej Vydra controversially sent off as Watford beaten by Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road
Watford have justified cause to feel hard done by after being controversially reduced to ten men for more than 45 minutes for the second match running and losing 2-1 to Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road.
The match could not have got off to a better start for the Hornets, who took the lead after just 28 seconds when Troy Deeney confidently found the unguarded net after Jason Steele had denied Matej Vydra following a terrible back pass from Andre Bikey.
The hosts were in almost complete control for the next 25 minutes, only to be pegged back against the run of play when Marvin Emnes hooked in the equaliser following a corner.
Having been pegged back, Watford suffered another setback minutes before the break when to the bewilderment of most inside the Vicarage Road, including the players, Vydra was sent off to leave his side going into a second half of a game with ten men for the second consecutive match.
Almen Abdi forced a good save out of Steele from a free-kick early in the second half but after being denied once by Manuel Almunia, Scott McDonald fired the visitors in front with 13 minutes remaining.
However, but for a superb reaction save from Steele when three Hornets were queuing up to convert a rebound from a Mark Yeates free-kick, the hosts would have got the point their performance merited.
Following back-to-back away wins, Ginfranco Zola made just the one enforced change, with Vydra promoted from the substitutes to return to the starting XI after a two-game absence in place of the suspended Fernando Forestieri.
There were two adjustments on the bench, one of which was particularly significant as Alex Geijo was involved in a match-day squad for the first time this season. Connor Smith was also back among the replacements, with Chris Iwelumo the player to miss out from the squad that overcame Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night.
Bikey was one of four changes to the Boro line-up but he made a nightmare start, selling Steele hopelessly short with a back pass which Vydra was on to in a flash. The keeper was quickly out to smother his effort but the ball broke for Deeney, who confidently dispatched it into the net from the edge of the area to give the Hornets the lead after just 28 seconds.
Vydra had another shot charged down after a positive run at the heart of the visiting defence soon after and then Jonathan Hogg swept a pass out to Daniel Pudil on the left. The Czech international delivered a dangerous cross which Abdi almost got a decent touch on at the back post.
The Hornets continued to ask questions and in the tenth minute Nathaniel Chalobah again found Pudil, who cut inside before hitting a low shot which Steele smothered. Deeney and Abdi also saw efforts blocked as the hosts continued to dominate the early exchanges.
Chalobah was again the supplier in the `12th minute with a lovely 40-yard ball over the top to release Vydra. The angle looked to be against the Hornets’ top scorer but he unleashed a ferocious angled right-footed strike that clipped the top of the bar as it went over.
The visitors finally mustered their first attempt in the 19th minute when Nicky Bailey drifted in a cross from the left and an under-pressure Lukas Jutkiewicz headed wide of Almunia’s left-hand post.
Boro then started to enjoy some periods of possession but they didn’t create anything until the 29th minute when George Friend worked a give-and-go with Emnes, continued his surging run forward from left-back and got away from Marco Cassetti before forcing Almunia to concede a corner at his near post.
From that set-piece – and out of keeping with the majority of what had gone before – Boro levelled as the corner was headed down by Stephen McManus and Emnes hooked the ball over his shoulder and into the net from close range to make it 1-1.
Buoyed by the equaliser, Josh McEachran chanced his arm with a good 25-yard shot, which Almunia had to push behind for another corner, and then Bikey saw another effort blocked as their opponents were guilty of becoming a bit sloppy.
However, the hosts were soon back on the front foot, with Chalobah again the instigator, releasing Cassetti on the right and his pacey low cross was inches away from being converted by the sliding Hogg.
Boro were forced into a change six minutes before the break when the injured Justin Hoyte was replaced by McDonald. But three minutes before the break, Watford found themselves numerically up against it for a second match running..
The incident occurred when Bailey slide in for a challenge and referee Steve Rushton, judging by his body language, seemed to intimate that Vydra had stamped on the player, who had moved to left-back following Hoyte’s substitution. However, not one Boro player appealed for a foul, let alone anything more serious, while the majority inside Vicarage Road reacted with bewilderment as the extremely unlucky Hornets striker trudged to the dressing room. It was a baffling decision.
Not surprisingly though, Boro sought to capitalise on their numerical advantage and McDonald wasn’t too far away with a glancing header from a Friend cross before the half came to a close with a cascade of boos directed at the official.
The visitors started the second half on the front foot, forcing two corners in the opening stages, but it was the hosts who had the first meaningful attempt when they were awarded a free-kick in a central position 25 yards out and Abdi’s right-footed effort was destined for the bottom corner until Steele got across well to push it behind.
Deeney then headed a cross from the right over before Faris Haroun was found in a good position on the right side of the area but he screwed his shot wide of the near post.
Zola made his first change in the 57th minute when Geijo became Watford’s latest debutant in place of Deeney but it took an excellent save to prevent the visitors from taking the lead soon after when Almunia denied McDonald from close range after Boro had attacked down the left.
Emmanuel Ledesma came on for Haroun after 65 minutes and then Abdi made way for Yeates before Leadbitter forced Almunia into a save with a strike from distance.
McEachran became the first Boro player to be booked following a foul on Geijo and then Tony Mowbray played his final card, replacing Jutkiewicz with Luke Williams. Within a minute, the visitors were in front.
McDonald received the ball in the area and did well to open up a shooting chance before hitting a low strike back across himself and past Almunia in off the far post.
Sean Murray was sent on for Neuton immediately after the goal but it was only thanks to the brilliance of Steele that the Hornets didn’t equalise with seven minutes remaining.
The keeper made life hard for himself by spilling a Yeates free-kick from 25 yards but as Geijo, Cassetti and Tommie Hoban closed rapidly in and one of them looked set to convert the rebound, the keeper stuck out an instinctive leg to divert the ball over the bar.
Almunia saved from Emnes when Watford were opened up on the counter moments later, while Murray had a shot blocked at the other end.
Four minutes of additional time gave the Hornets grounds for further encouragement but they were unable to test Steele again.
Watford: Almunia; Hoban, Hall, Neuton (Murray 77); Cassetti, Abdi, Chalobah, Hogg, Pudil; Deeney (Geijo 57), Vydra. Not used: Yeates, Doyley, Smith, Bond and Ekstrand.
Middlesbrough: Steele; Hoyte (McDonald 39), Bikey, McManus, Friend; Haroun (Ledesma 65), Leadbitter, McEachran (Williams 76), Bailey; Jutkiewicz, Emnes. Not used: Hines, Halliday, Williams, Leutwiler and Smallwood.
Bookings: Vydra sent off for a foul on Bailey (43); McEachran for a foul on Geijo (75); Ledesma for time wasting (90).
Attendance: 12,006 Referee: Steve Rushton.