MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray refused to count his chickens after victory over Watford moved his side nine points clear of the relegation zone.
Danny Graham opened the scoring for the visitors before two goals in 12 minutes from Scott McDonald and Andrew Taylor gave Boro a vital three points.
Mowbray said: “It is a good cushion but that doesn’t mean anyone here will be relaxing.
“It is a big gap, we know that, and some of those teams behind us now need to win three games to close the gap on us and with every week they have fewer games to do that in.
“But we know what this game is like and what this league is like and we can’t take anything for granted. We know there is a long way to go.
“We’ve got a break next week but then we have a big April with eight games and we know we have to keep our standards high and have to keep picking up points.
“But I thought we deserved it. We played well, we worked hard and we kept going. I’m pleased.”
Boro made a bright start. Nicky Bailey’s long-range effort was comfortably saved by Hornets keeper Scott Loach, while Tony McMahon shot wide from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Graham, who made 15 appearances in four years with the Teessiders, threatened with a cross into the six-yard area that no one could get on the end of but the in-form striker then opened the scoring in the 28th minute.
Don Cowie played in Graham, who cut inside and onto his right foot before firing past Paul Smith to register his sixth goal in as many matches.
It was a scarcely deserved lead as Boro had been dictating the tempo of the game but Australian striker McDonald levelled matters five minutes later when he swept home from Barry Robson’s right-wing cross.
Chances were at a premium for the remainder of the half but Taylor put the hosts in front just before the interval.
Midfielder Robson was again involved as his low 20-yard strike was parried by Loach into the path of Taylor and he made no mistake with the rebound.
Buoyed by the strike, Boro continued to assert their dominance on the encounter in the second half.
Taylor nearly doubled his tally but his goalbound shot was blocked by Watford defender Mariappa, whilst McMahon was inches wide with a 25-yard strike.
Boro’s profligacy in front of goal nearly came back to haunt them for a second time but on this occasion, Graham’s strike from 12 yards was tipped over by Smith.
Watford’s mood was further dampened when Mariappa was shown a second yellow card in the 88th minute after he had hauled down Emnes.
Joe Bennett had an opportunity to make the points safe but his strike from the edge of the area produced a fine save from Loach.
Middlesbrough: Smith, McMahon, Rhys Williams, Grounds, Bennett, Robson, Bailey, Arca (McManus 84), Taylor, McDonald (Zemmama 88), Emnes. Subs Not Used: Ripley, Haas, Kink, Smallwood, Tavares. Booked: Robson. Goals: McDonald 33, Taylor 45.
Watford: Loach, Thompson (Bennett 46), Taylor, Mariappa, Hodson, Cowie, Jenkins, Eustace, Buckley (Sordell 68), Deeney (Weimann 79), Graham. Subs Not Used: Gilmartin, Mingoia, Whichelow, Smith. Sent Off: Mariappa (88). Booked: Eustace, Mariappa, Graham. Goals: Graham 28.
Att: 16,090 Ref: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire)