STAR PREVIEW Fri: Watford v Middlesbrough

It feels like just yesterday that Fulham won promotion back to the Premier League in front of a largely empty Wembley but the new football league season in back upon us and Watford can kick-start a bid to return to the promised land with victory over Middlesbrough.

To say that last season was a shambles for the Hornets was an understatement; Watford went through four mangers including interim boss Hayden Mullins and couldn’t stay up after losing six of their last eight games, including a 4-2 defeat at Arsenal on the final day when they dominated proceedings in the second half.

More stability will be needed if they’re going to bounce back at the first port of call this term but the first step is keeping their squad intact and whilst losing Abdoulaye Doucouré to Everton in midfield is a blow, they’ve kept hold of the majority of their Premier League squad and may have pulled a masterstroke in bringing in Glenn Murray from Brighton. Murray, who scored 23 goals for Brighton in the 2016/17 Championship season, adds invaluable experience and Watford still have Danny Welbeck to choose from upfront.

Indeed, of the starting elven that played against Arsenal on the final day of last season, only Abdoulaye Doucouréi isn’t currently a Watford player and of those who started on the bench, all but Cucho Hernández, Heurelho Gomes and Adrian Mariappa are still at the club.
That gives new manager Vladimir Ivic plenty to play with and the target should be for a bold title bit.

Watford v Middlesbrough
19:45 Sky Sports Football / Sky Sports Main Event / Sky Sports Ultra HD

(Maximum 10 matches, since 2010)
JAN 2017 PREMIER LEAGUE Watford 0-0 Middlesbrough
OCT 2016 PREMIER LEAGUE Middlesbrough 0-1 Watford
APR 2015 PREMIER LEAGUE Watford 2-0 Middlesbrough
OCT 2014 PREMIER LEAGUE Middlesbrough 1-1 Watford
FEB 2014 CHAMPIONSHIP Watford 1-0 Middlesbrough
NOV 2013 CHAMPIONSHIP Middlesbrough 2-2 Watford
JAN 2013 CHAMPIONSHIP Middlesbrough 1-2 Watford
OCT 2012 CHAMPIONSHIP Watford 1-2 Middlesbrough
APR 2012 CHAMPIONSHIP Watford 2-1 Middlesbrough
NOV 2011 CHAMPIONSHIP Middlesbrough 1-0 Watford
MAR 2011 CHAMPIONSHIP Middlesbrough 2-1 Watford

Middlesbrough should have a calmer time of things this season – Neil Warnock, parachuted in to ensure the club remained in the second tier, should have a better run of things during this campaign, but they won’t be helped by losing a host of first team names such as George Friend (Birmingham), and Adam Clayton (Birmingham) along with Ryan Shotton, Rudy Gestede and Daniel Ayala, whilst the only arrival is Grant Hall.

Middlesbrough finished relatively well last season, ending the second half of the season in midtable (they were 11th in the form table for their last eight games) but they will probably have to improve if Watford can turn up on form and the hosts are the pick to being the Championship season in style.

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