Yannick Bolasie’s first Middlesbrough goal earned a point for the hosts after promotion-chasing Watford scored a controversial first-half opener at the Riverside Stadium.
Watford, who sit second in the Championship table, looked on course for a seventh straight win when Ismaïla Sarr’s fortuitous goal in the 32nd minute stood despite Boro’s claims for handball and offside. Boro found an extra edge in the second half of the lunch-time kick-off and subsitute Bolasie, on loan from Everton, headed home the equaliser with 12 minutes left.
The visitors dictated the early play without creating many chances, with Philip Zinckernagel’s shot deflected behind for a corner and Ken Sema firing wide from Kiko Femenía’s cross. Boro’s Sam Morsy was forced off with a knee injury after a Nathaniel Chalobah challenge that earned the Watford man a yellow card.
Before Neil Warnock’s side could adjust, they fell behind. Sema’s initial shot was saved by Marcus Bettinelli but Marc Bola cleared straight to Zinckernagel. The Danish forward appeared to control with his arm before striking a goalbound effort that deflected in off Sarr’s heel.
Bettinelli led the complaints, citing offside as well as the handball. Darnell Fisher and Djed Spence had both played Sarr on, but the handball was not spotted and the goal stood. Boro then ad a goal ruled out early in the second half when George Saville’s header was turned in by Duncan Watmore, who was a yard offside.
João Pedro spurned two chances to extend Watford’s lead, sidefooting wide of the near post from Sarr’s cutback, then curling beyond the far post when picked out by Sema. Warnock brought on Bolasie and Chuba Akpom who changed the momentum of the game, and Boro deservedly levelled in the 78th minute.
Paddy McNair’s delivery from a free-kick deep and wide on the right was perfect, allowing Bolasie to move between his markers and nod low beyond Dan Bachmann from close range. Watford edge a step closer to an immediate Premier League return with a point, while the draw did little to boost Boro’s fading play-off hopes.