CHAMPIONSHIP-bound Watford produced a defensive horror show at the Riverside this (Saturday) afternoon to tumble to yet another Premiership away defeat.

Mark Viduka (2), Chris Riggott and Fabio Rochemback all helped themselves to goals as the Hornets produced the kind of defensive display that will have Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney licking their lips ahead of next week's FA Cup semi-final.

Watford did have the consolation of scoring the goal of the game through Damien Francis - a strike that levelled the game - but it could have been a rout were it not once again for the heroics of Ben Foster.

Just to add to his woes, Aidy Boothroyd will be concerned about an injury to Darius Henderson that forced him to go off after just half-an-hour while captain Gavin Mahon failed to reappear for the second-half.

Boothroyd named an unchanged team for the first time since the 2-1 defeat at Newcastle in December. The manager did though, make one change on the bench, opting to go without a recognised keeper by replacing Richard Lee with Gareth Williams. Henderson was asked to play the lone striker role while Tommy Smith, Steve Kabba and Douglas Rinaldi provided the support from a five-man midfield.

Boro's Watford-born boss Gareth Southgate was without the services of the injured Jonathan Woodgate but his side was still packed with quality. German international Robert Huth came into the heart of the defence, England winger Stewart Downing started on the left side while Viduka and Yakubu Ayegbeni formed a formidable strikef-orce.

Dan Shittu started off the game in exactly the same manner he did at Plymouth, leaping imperiously to win two headers inside the opening four minutes, beating Viduka on both occasions. However, the Nigerian powerhouse was caught napping just a minute later as the Australian fired the home side in front.

A deep cross from Adam Johnson was headed back across the goal by Downing and while Shittu was ball watching, Viduka pounced to stab the ball past the stranded Foster. It was exactly the sort of start Boothroyd - who sat in the stands for the first 30 minutes - would have been dreading.

Watford responded positively to going behind. A neat move down the right resulted in Kabba picking out Smith, but the utility forward could not generate any pace or direction on the header and the ball looped harmlessly wide of Mark Schwarzer's post.

There was nothing Schwarzer could do about Watford's equaliser on 22 minutes. A free-kick from the left by Jordan Stewart picked out Shittu at the far post and he headed the ball across the face of goal for Francis to lash into the roof of the net. It was a wonderful piece of anticipation from Francis and a brilliantly executed finish.

Watford were level for all of three minutes, though. The lively Johnson twisted and turned his way past Smith before teeing up George Boeteng for a strike at goal. The Boro captain's shot did not look like it was going to trouble Foster until it took a wicked deflection off Riggott and nestled in the opposite corner.

Foster prevented Boro from making it three just 60 second later when he tipped a low drive from Downing round the post.

Watford's defending must have left Boothroyd tearing his hair out and shortly after replacing Henderson - who headed straight down the tunnel with what must have been an injury - with Hameur Bouazza, the manager left his seat in the stand to join Dick Bate and Malky Mackay on the touchline. The reshuffle saw Kabba play through the middle, Smith switched to the right flank and Bouazza operating down the left.

Bouazza sent a teasing right-footed centre across the face of goal soon after his arrival but Boro carried the greater goal threat and Yakuba will feel he should have better after rolling Shittu and firing a left-footed shot wide of the post. Viduka, his strike partner, then forced an excellent save from Foster with a rising drive from close range.

Watford were presented with a half-chance on the stroke of half-time when Andrew Taylor's extravagant attempt to clear the ball fell to Rinaldi 12 yards out. But the Brazilian was quickly closed down and sent his half-volley over the bar.

Boothroyd made his second change of the match at half-time, replacing Mahon, his captain, with Tamas Priskin and reverting to a more conventional 4-4-2.

It was Boro who had the first attempt on goal of the second 45 minutes, with Downing forcing a low save from Foster, his fellow England squad member. Watford looked increasingly nervy in defence and Foster was again on hand to deny Yakuba on 53 minutes after Abel Xavier had burst forward from defence.

Xavier was on the charge again minutes later, swapping passes with Downing before teeing up Yakuba for what looked a certain third. But just as the Nigerian was about to pull the trigger, James Chambers threw himself heroically at the ball and deflected it over for a corner.

Boro were now rampant and it took a fine double save from Foster to deny Yakubu and Rochemback in quick succession just before the hour mark. It looked only a matter of time before they claimed the killer third, particularly with the Watford defence all at sea.

Watford eventually took time out from fending off wave after wave of attack to create three chances of their own in quick succession. Kabba should have broken his duck with a header from six yards out after a lovely patient move, Francis fired straight at Schwarzer after being put through by Kabba and then Rinaldi blazed over from the edge of the box.

Viduka was far more clinical on 75 minutes, expertly placing the ball into the top corner from ten yards after Stewart made a complete hash of an innocuous cross from Johnson, who was proving to be a real thorn in the visitors' side.

Things got worse for the demoralised visitors on 79 minutes when Rochemback added a fourth after Viduka had carved Watford apart through the middle. It was depressing stuff for the small band of Watford fans who had made the long trip to Teeside.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer; Xaiver, Riggott, Huth, Taylor; Johnson, Boeteng, Rochamback, Downing; Yakuba, Viduka. Substitutes: Christie for Yakubu, 80; Parnaby for Johnson, 86; Gook Lee for Viduka 88. Jones and Lee not used.

Watford: Foster; Chambers, DeMerit, Shittu, Stewart; Smith, Mahon, Francis, Rinaldi; Henderson, Kabba. Substitutes: Bouazza for Henderson, 30; Priskin for Mahon, 45; Doyley, Williams and Bangura not used

Attendance: 25,534.

Referee: Chris Foy.