Watford defeats Middlesbrough in Championship opener
Watford’s bid for an immediate return to the Premier League got off to a promising start as they opened the Championship season with a 1-0 win against Middlesbrough on Friday.
The Hornets were relegated on the final day of last season after five years in England’s top flight.
But they are among the favorites for promotion this term and Craig Cathcart’s early goal at Vicarage Road ensured they made a winning start under new Serbian boss Vladimir Ivic.
After a close-season break lasting just 38 days, the English Football League has returned for a campaign that promises drama and despair in equal measures.
The corona virus-delayed finish to last season saw Leeds, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham reach the Premier League after a thrilling promotion race and play-off battle.
With promotion worth an estimated £160 million ($204 million), clubs will be more desperate than ever to go up as football faces up to an uncertain future off the pitch.
Fans are still locked out of stadiums due to the pandemic and some teams are teetering on the edge of financial ruin as a result.
Against that troubled backdrop, Watford were especially keen for a convincing start.
They were without several injured players including Troy Deeney, Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu, but Cathcart opened the scoring as he headed home from Ken Sema’s cross from a short corner in the 11th minute.
Neil Warnock remains in charge of Middlesbrough after saving club from relegation when he took over on a caretaker basis towards the end of last season.
Warnock’s men nearly grabbed an instant equaliser when Ashley Fletcher’s deflected shot flashed just past the far post.
Britt Assombalonga forced a fine save from Ben Foster after the break and the Middlesbrough striker was frustrated again when his free-kick was tipped over as Watford held on.
The rest of the Championship’s opening round of matches take place on Saturday, with Norwich in the spotlight as they head to Huddersfield looking to bounce straight back to the Premier League after last season’s relegation.
Daniel Farke’s team could only manage a one-season stay in the top tier and finished a woeful 13 points adrift at the bottom.
Of their key players, Norwich have only sold Jamal Lewis so far and Farke is confident they can repeat their promotion success of two seasons ago.
Read More updates.