AFTER a watershed moment in the reverse fixture at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough have added motivation to display their steady improvement in front of an emotional Vicarage Road audience today.
The Teessiders’ pitiful home loss to the Hornets in mid-October saw the alarm bells reverberate regarding the club’s prospects of staving off the drop following a fourth loss in five league matches,.
Questions were also starting to be asked about the security of head coach Aitor Karanka’s tenure.
Typically, the Basque showed resolve and dug in, with Boro’s improvement since having been solid after a potential crossroads for the club in 2016-17.
Now they face opponents who are not in the best of form themselves, who have lost four of their past five league games, just as Boro had in mid-autumn.
Karanka said: “They beat us two or three months ago, but now we have more experience. We have to try and beat them as they are a direct opponent.
“You never know because sometimes you think it is a good time because they are not on a good run, they need to win the game, they need three points as we need the three points.”
Karanka is urging key defender Ben Gibson to maintain his focus ahead of reports linking him with a big-money move to Chelsea.
Karanka added: “He has a lot of potential. Top teams are speaking about him, the national team is speaking about him.
“But the main thing for him is to forget everything because he is playing – if he plays – on Saturday against Watford and if he thinks about other kinds of things, he can make a big mistake.”
The Hornets have extra motivation as the club remember their greatest manager in Graham Taylor, who will be commemorated ahead of kick-off after his death on Thursday.
Hornets manager Walter Mazzarri said: “We have already many reasons why we need to win the game on Saturday.
“On top of this now we’ve got Graham Taylor, which gives us an extra reason why we need to win the game against Middlesbrough.
“Together with the fans, we know we have to go on the pitch and give everything we’ve got to obtain the maximum result.”
Tom Cleverley is poised to make his second debut for Watford after joining on loan from Everton until the end of season.
The former Manchester United midfielder, who has featured just twice for Everton since November 5, spent the 2009-10 campaign on loan at the Hornets.