And so another season of mid-table mediocrity ends and, while for many a break from football will be most welcome, for a lot of people connected with Watford the next few weeks are going to be very, very important indeed.

Well, they should be.

The 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, while slightly harsh, underlined the size of the task for Tom Cleverley and his staff – and must also nudge the owner in the direction of doing something, anything, that can alter the steady but noticeable decline on the field.

The Hornets have finished the season in 15th, the lowest league placing under the ownership of Gino Pozzo.

Only twice, in the last 20 years, have Watford been placed lower in the league.

And while the owner can, correctly, point to progress off the pitch at the stadium, the training ground and in other areas, Watford are now – in pure positional terms – lower than when he took over at Vicarage Road.

We’ve all been on a mystery tour that was very magical at times, but has recently become a repeated trip through the ghost train.

The Hornets are, on the pitch at least, back where they started in 2012.

Look at those around the Hornets in the Championship: Millwall, for so long considered relegation contenders, have ended the season three points and two places higher.

QPR, who were embarrassingly bad as Watford routed them 4-0 on the opening day at Vicarage Road, have finished the campaign level on points with the Hornets.

The parachute money is over. The Hornets are no longer a club that was ‘recently’ in the Premier League. They are now a Championship club, and a middling one at that.

And while those of an older vintage will see being in the second tier as Watford punching above their weight, given they spent so many seasons just dreaming of being outside the bottom two divisions, the fact remains that the club looked capable of becoming a middling Premier League club just a few short years ago.

Instead, they finish the 23/24 season just six points above the relegation zone.

Cleverley has already cited the lack of extensive funds to strengthen a squad that looked thin in August and yet managed to lose weight in January.

Even a particularly balanced view of what he’ll require to turn the Hornets into a top 10 side, let alone anything more, would suggest the new head coach will need at least half a dozen starters to arrive between now and next season.

Today’s game was substantial evidence that the forward area needs a total refresh. Both strikers went clean through in goal, one sent his shot deep into the home end, the other didn’t even get a shot away because he took so long.

For once the defence couldn’t rescue the Hornets’ profligate finishing as they shipped a couple of goals that were particularly poor, and so the only real highlight was the drive and flair of the midfield.

That would offer some hope, if it were not for the real threat that the likes of Yaser Asprilla and Ismael Kone could well be sold in the summer as money will be needed to help plug the holes that the last set of accounts showed are clearly there.

Where all the money has gone is a question for another day, although a short answer is an Australian bank.

In isolation, a final-day defeat in a game that meant not very much is not a disaster. But tagged on the end of another miserable season, which itself followed two equally grim campaigns, it provided plenty of food for thought.

That so much of what Watford fans will be thinking about now the season is over will be worrying and negative topics is a realistic and fair indication of where the club now is.

Those who worry about next season and beyond are not doom-mongers or negative ninnies. They’re realists.

This summer could be one of the most defining at Vicarage Road for a long, long time.

Francisco Sierralta, Ryan Andrews and Mileta Rajovic all returned to the starting line-up for the game at the Riverside.

Injury had ruled out Giorgi Chakvetadze, Emmanuel Dennis and Tom Dele-Bashiru, while Ryan Porteous didn’t travel due to a combination of him being one booking away from starting next season with a ban and his participation in the upcoming Euro 2024 finals.

Cleverley loaded his bench with a number of homegrown Academy players.

Jack Grieves, who made his first senior start last week, was on the bench along with full-back Albert Eames, who recently signed a three-year professional contract.

Three players still eligible to play for the Under-18s were also among the subs: forwards Zavier Massiah-Edwards and Amin Nabizada had been on the bench before, but it was a first time for midfielder Leo Ramirez-Espain.

Despite all the talk of league games never being meaningless, the first half was about as tame as it gets.

It was played a gear or two below full throttle and while it wasn’t dull, it wasn’t at a tempo to set the pulse racing.

Six minutes in Ken Sema got to the by-line and crossed, Vakoun Bayo was between defenders but Dieng reacted very well to push away his close-range header.

Wes Hoedt did well to nick the ball away from the breaking Latte Lath and then Dan Bachmann made a sound save to push away an angled drive from Jones.

The home side went ahead with a moment of good striker play in the 27th minute.

Ayling got away down the right and dragged the ball back across the box. It was running slightly behind Latte Lath but he adjusted his body to hook a shot back across Bachmann and into the bottom corner.

The Hornets had a really good chance to level seven minutes later as Yaser Asprilla and Ismael Kone combine to send Mileta Rajovic through, but he shot wildly over the bar.

Hoedt headed an Asprilla free-kick wide, and two minutes before the break Kayembe dragged a shot wide from just outside the area.

Three minutes after the restart Ayling crossed from the right, Latte Lath had peeled off Sierralta and steered a header back across goal which Bachmann dived to tip away.

Watford’s afternoon in attack thus far was summed up in the 52nd minute.

A superb ball from Andrews sent Bayo away through the middle and his first touch was perfect. However, he then dallied as he moved into the box and Gilbert got back to take the ball off him.

Thomas was sent clear on the left of the box and the advancing Bachmann saved with his leg.

In the 70th minute Barlaser clipped a cross towards the back post, and Clarke headed back towards the back post and wide.

The Hornets levelled after 73 minutes, and it was a rare goal from a set piece.

Asprilla played a corner to the front post and Hoedt stooped to flick a header over Dieng and inside the back post.

Soon after a mazy run from Kone ended with him steering a low shot towards the corner which Dieng dived to push wide.

The home side regained the lead in the 77th minute though, and it wasn’t great defending.

Greenwood managed to jink between four blue shirts with minimal effort, his low cross was deflected into the path of Bangura and he steered a low effort into the corner.

And in the 83rd minute it was game over as Ayling got into the box in aces of space on the right and laid the ball back for Jones to score from eight yards.

It could have been worse in the final minute of normal time as Latte Lath checked 20 yards out and curled a shot just over the bar.

In stoppage time both Massiah-Edwards and Eames came on for their first-team debuts.

Watford: Bachmann; Pollock (Grieves 79), Sierralta, Hoedt; Andrews (Eames 90+2), Kayembe, Kone, Asprilla (Massiah-Edwards 90+2), Sema (Morris ht); Bayo, Rajovic (Martins 54). Subs: Hamer, Livermore, Ramirez-Espain, Nabizada