Middlesbrough end the season on a high as form continues with solid 3-1 victory over Watford

Emmanuel Latte Lath of Middlesbrough is scoring and celebrating with Luke Ayling
Emmanuel Latte Lath of Middlesbrough is scoring and celebrating with Luke Ayling -Credit:MI News/NurPhoto

Middlesbrough capped their fine end-of-season form with a solid 3-1 home victory over Watford, as they now head into an important summer full of optimism.

Ending the campaign with just one defeat in 12, Boro beat Watford thanks to goals from the in-form Emmanuel Latte Lath, Alex Bangura and Isaiah Jones. Vakoun Bayo had equalised for the visitors, but on a day that also saw Law McCabe make his first start and James Wilson become their latest debutant, Boro were not to be denied their positive send-off of the season.

Michael Carrick made one change to the side that beat Cardiff City last weekend. It was Dan Barlaser who dropped out for 17-year-old McCabe to make his first start for the club after a season of training almost every week with the first team. Josh Coburn returned to the bench for the game too, while young defender Wilson would late come off the bench after signing his first pro contract on Friday evening.

There was little riding on this one for either side, but both wanted to end the season on a high having been in strong form coming into it and hoping to carrying positive vibes into the summer and next season. In that respect, it was perhaps no surprise to see a better tempo and overall contest than at Cardiff last weekend, where Boro scored four goals within 15 minutes and it was otherwise a bit of a low-key contest.

This game may have lacked the drama of goals and major chances, but it was a decent contest in the context, and saw two sides play some decent stuff while trying to find ways to break down each other's defence.

It was Watford who had the first big chance of the game, Ken Sema was played in behind Luke Ayling down the right and his cross found Vakoun Bayo inside the six-yard box. He just couldn't get enough power behind the header as Seny Dieng made a comfortable save in the end.

Boro slowly grew into the game and would take over from around the 20th minute, albeit without creating much of note. Latte Lath was causing problems and both McCabe and Alex Gilbert were lively in the middle of the park.

It was the tried and tested combination of Ayling and Latte Lath that brought Boro their first goal, however. Ayling's pulled a low cross deeper than the Watford defence. Evading them all, Latte Lath had peeled away at the back post and showed great composure befitting his form to hook it back across goal and into the far corner. That was the Ivorian's 11th goal in 12 games.

Watford responded well to going behind but the first half lacked many major chances after that point. And unlike Cardiff last weekend, there no goals in the 15 minutes after the restart in this one, but there was certainly more goalmouth action.

It was Latte Lath who had the first chance after the restart, with Ayling the provider again. This time an aerial cross from the Leeds United loan man, Latte Lath again peeled off at the back post and wide of it, Latte Lath did so well to direct his header back across goal. He was unlucky, only denied by a great reaction Dan Bachmann save.

Boro were then almost caught on the counter from their own corner. A long ball over last-man Isaiah Jones' head but Bayo in behind. It was Gilbert charging back beyond Jones and the forward made an excellent last-ditch tackle just as the Hornets forward was going to pull the trigger.

Quickly up the other end, it was Boro's turn to hit on the counter. Latte Lath held it up well before going back inside to Gilbert. He did well to spot the break of Luke Thomas down the left and sent the Leicester loan man through on goal. Lacking conviction, however, he didn't ever look confident in beating Bachmann, with the Watford keeper making himself big and applying the block.

As far as a meaningless result is concerned, the miss looked like it might prove costly when Watford got an equaliser they'd been threatening. From a corner, Bayo broke away at the near post and flicked his header well, over the crowd and into the far corner of the goal.

But Boro were not to be denied. Carrick had made four subs by this point with Dan Barlaser setting a good chance up for Matt Clarke and Lewis O'Brien also coming on. It was Sam Greenwood and Alex Bangura who combined for the goal though.

Greenwood showed great feet in the box to beat his man before firing across the area. Jones helped it across with a slight touch, Bangura arrived at the right time to apply a great first-time finish into the bottom corner. A great moment personally after a season of injury-frustration, you could see how much it meant to him, as all of his team-mates joined him in celebration.

Boro weren't finished there though. They ended their season in style. A great Finn Azaz ball in behind for Ayling breaking off the right, he this time turned provider for Jones as he cut it back from the byline, putting it on a plate for the wide man to hammer home from close range.

A celebratory end to a season that in the grand scheme didn't go as Boro would have hoped, there was another youth debutant too as Wilson came on in added time for his debut. Ending the season with a good win and another Latte Lath goal, Boro head into the summer on the back of just one defeat in 12 and with plenty of reason to be optimistic about next season.

Eighth place is their final position, and just four points off the play-offs in the end, which will be contested by Leeds United, Southampton, West Brom and Norwich. In the context of an injury-ravaged campaign, it's not a terrible final position by any stretch.