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Duncan Watmore brace gives Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock a late birthday gift

Middlesbrough v Swansea City – Sky Bet Championship – Riverside Stadium
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Duncan Watmore’s double ensured Neil Warnock was able to celebrate his 72nd birthday in style as his Middlesbrough side claimed a 2-1 win over Swansea in the Championship.

Warnock turned 72 on Tuesday, and his players handed him the perfect present a day later as Watmore’s brace banished the memories of Saturday’s defeat to Huddersfield.

The former Sunderland forward, who only signed as a free agent three weeks ago, claimed his first two goals in a Boro shirt, and while Yan Dhanda pulled a goal back for Swansea, Boro held on to secure a deserved three points.

Middlesbrough were the better side throughout, although it was their own goalkeeper, Marcus Bettinelli, who was the first to be called into the action.

The Fulham loanee got down well to keep out Jamal Lowe’s driven strike after Andre Ayew had played a slide-rule pass to his fellow forward in the box, and while the ball rebounded kindly for Connor Roberts, his follow-up effort was blocked by Marcus Tavernier’s outstretched leg.

It proved an important step, as Boro took the lead in the 26th minute.

Marvin Johnson’s precise pass sent Watmore galloping down the left, and after cutting inside the forward fired in a 20-yard strike that found the corner of the net via a deflection off Marc Guehi’s boot.

It was a memorable moment for Watmore, who joined Boro as a free agent last month having been released by Sunderland earlier in the summer.

On only his second start as a Boro player, the former England Under-21 international was able to celebrate his first goal since netting in a 5-0 win over Tranmere for Sunderland back in October 2019.

The home side almost doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time, but Swansea goalkeeper Freddie Woodman denied Sam Morsy with a fine low save.

Swansea manager Steve Cooper made a triple substitution at half-time in an attempt to change things, and one of the players he introduced should really have made an immediate impact.

Bettinelli produced an air kick as he tried to deal with a long ball over the top, and while Dael Fry made life for difficult for Viktor Gyokeres on the edge of the area, the Swansea substitute should have found the target rather than shooting wildly over the crossbar.

Woodman saved from Johnson at the other end soon after, and Boro went close again shortly before the hour mark when Morsy’s goal-bound effort was blocked by Guehi.

The hosts stepped up a gear in the second half and claimed a deserved second goal in the 67th minute.

Paddy McNair’s pass sent Watmore scampering into the right of the box, and the 26-year-old claimed his second strike of the night as he drilled a crisp low finish into the bottom corner.

Swansea responded with a goal of their own with 12 minutes remaining, when substitute Dhanda beat Bettinelli with a 20-yard strike after cutting in from the left.