The win that Watford craved to serve as a tribute to Graham Taylor was to frustratingly elude them as they were held to a goalless draw by Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road.

On an emotional afternoon and with members of the late Hornets manager’s family watching from the stand that bears Taylor’s name, Watford had enough chances to win a game low on quality but this will have to be regarded as two points dropped.

New Everton loan signing Tom Cleverley went closest when he hit the post after coming off the bench in the second half, but Troy Deeney and Etienne Capoue will also look back on chances they may feel they should have capitalised on.

In general though, much of the Hornets’ build-up play was once again too pedestrian and the lack of pace in the side was readily apparent in a result that will do little to alleviate the pressure on Walter Mazzarri.

The Hornets boss made five changes to the side that knocked Burton Albion out of the FA Cup and was able to name his strongest starting XI for several weeks as the Hornets’ injury crisis finally showed signs of abating.

Back came Heurelho Gomes, Sebastian Prodl, Jose Holebas, Valon Behrami and, for his first appearance since scoring twice in the Hornets’ last previous league victory against Everton a month ago, Stefano Oakaka.

This meant Costel Pantilimon, Craig Cathcart, Jerome Sinclair and Ben Watson dropped to a bench that also featured Cleverley, but youngster Brandon Mason was left out of the match-day 18 despite his promising full debut last week.

Aitor Karanka was always going to have to make one alteration following Daniel Ayala’s dismissal in the 3-0 FA Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday but ultimately opted for four.

Barcelona legend Victor Valdes returned between the posts and Fabio, Ben Gibson and Adam Forshaw were also back in the starting XI, with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Adam Clayton and Adama Traore dropping to the bench.

With chants of There’s Only One Graham Taylor and Elton John’s Taylor-Made Army ringing out loudly following a superbly observed minute’s applause, it was the visitors who made the more composed start in the opening minutes as they were content to try and keep possession.

But it was the Hornets who had the first real chance in the ninth minute when Capoue tried to play a one-two but got a very kind ricochet as the ball looped up and fell to put him clear through on goal. However, the Frenchman had to wait for the ball to come down and that, combined with wanting a touch to try and take it around Valdes, allowed the Boro keeper to clear with his legs.

The home side then got a break two minutes later when a ball into the box was knocked down by Alvaro Negredo and Cristhian Stuani took a touch before prodding it past Gomes, only for his celebrations to be cut short by the flag of assistant Andrew Halliday.

Boro continued to look the better side in the opening 20 minutes, retaining the ball and moving it around well, with their opponents trying to press when and where it was possible but, at times, looking very much like the away team.

After a rather bitty counter-attack had ended with an offside flag in the 24th minute, Valdes was forced into his first save of the afternoon when he rather bundled away an Abdoulaye Doucoure half-volley from outside the area after Deeney had flicked a ball forward on into the path of Okaka.

Some half-hearted Hornets appeals for a penalty were turned down when Christian Kabasele went down in the area as he was challenged by George Friend as the pair contested a clipped pass forward from Capoue.

The home side were having the better of it at this stage and a barracking run from Okaka almost set up a chance in the 33rd minute, but his ball across the six-yard box was cleared by Calum Chambers.

However, it was the visitors’ turn to go close next when a clever header into the box put Stuani in behind the defence, but he got just too much on his attempt to lift the ball over Gomes and put it onto the roof of the net.

Having survived that scare, the home side continued to have the majority of the play as the opening half drew to a close, but their build-up play was – as so often this season – too ponderous and a wayward Doucoure shot apart, they were unable to put any real pressure on Valdes’ goal as the opening period ended goalless.

The Hornets were out early for the second half and the Hornets had a sight of goal in the 47th minute when Capoue whipped in a right-footed cross from the left and Friend, unwisely, ducked under the ball as it bounced up in front of him at the far post, but Kabasele could only send his header into the side netting.

But the goal Watford craved almost arrived two minutes later when Capoue floated in a free-kick from wide on the right and it was met by a glancing Okaka header but Valdes was able to get down to his right to save on his line.

Following that opportunity though, the hosts almost shot themselves in the foot when having seemingly seen off Negredo in the penalty area, a defensive misunderstanding enabled Fabio to hit a right-footed snap shot which Gomes parried away to his left where Negredo was lurking in an offside position.

The Hornets keeper then had to move sharply off his line to punch clear a dangerous Fabio cross and in doing so he tweaked the lower part of his back. There was some concern as Gomes was treated for a couple of minutes and when play restarted, it was Prodl who had to take the free-kick awarded for offside.

Grant Leadbitter then flicked as cross from the left over the top but the game was still crying out for one team to take it by the scruff of the neck and show some real quality in the final third.

That threatened to materialise in the 64th minute when Younes Kaboul was able to get in behind the defence wide on the right and his cut back was cleared by Marten De Roon with Deeney lurking. Moments later, a Kabasele cross from the right broke for Capoue on the edge of the area, but he was unable to get the right amount of curl on his right-footed effort and the ball went a yard or so wide of the far post.

Karanka was the first manager to make a change in the 65th minute when new signing Rudy Gestede came on for his debut in place of Stuani. But at the same time Gomes had to admit defeat in his attempts to continue and was replaced by Pantilimon.

Another opening for the Hornets came and went in the 72nd minute when Kaboul’s ball forward was held up by Deeney before laid it off to Kabasele wide on the right. He struck a good fist-time cross which Doucoure met, but was unable to direct his header on target as he sent the ball wide of Valdes’ right-hand post.

Cleverley came on for his second Watford ‘debut’ with 14 minutes of normal time remaining in place of Behrami, but there was an element of controversy moments later when Okaka went down under the challenge of Bernardo Espinosa in the area and referee Jon Moss decided the Hornets striker had gone to ground far too easily and booked him.

Gestede sent a shot on the 25 yards dipping over, only for the Hornets to come within inches of making the breakthrough in the 80th minute.

It stemmed from a Holebas throw on the left which was flicked on by Deeney and Cleverley turned the ball towards goal, but the ball cannoned back out into the area of the far post and Capoue opted for power and struck his right-footed follow-up narrowly over.

Watford were to go agonisingly close again when Cleverley lifted a pass forward and Deeney got between and away from two defenders to go through on goal. But with Valdes bearing down on him, the Hornets captain had to rush his shot through the keeper’s legs and it was deflected wide of the far post.

Still the home side kept pushing, with the Boro keeper having to scramble away a Prodl header from a corner before there was a late melee after Britos flew into a challenge on Fabio. The Hornets defender was booked, as were the former Manchester United man and Deeney for their part in the subsequent handbags.

But ultimately the Hornets were on unable to make the breakthrough on an afternoon when they were unable to find the quality to put the ball in the back of the net when it mattered.

Watford: Gomes (Pantilimon 65); Kaboul, Prodl, Britos; Kabasele, Doucoure, Behrami (Cleverley 76), Capoue, Holebas (Zuniga 89); Deeney, Okaka. Not used: Cathcart, Sinclair, Watson, Ighalo.

Middlesbrough: Valdes; Bernardo, Chambers, Gibson; Fabio, Leadbitter, De Roon, Forshaw, Friend; Stunai (Gestede 65), Negredo. Not used: Guzan, Clayton, Fischer, Downing, Fry, Traore.

Bookings: Okaka for simulation (77); Britos for a on Fabio (90); Deeney for ungentlemanly conduct (90); Fabio for ungentlemanly conduct (90).

Attendance: 20,659 (2,097 away fans).

Referee: Jon Moss.