DUNCAN WATMORE provided a belated birthday gift to Neil Warnock and perhaps an early Christmas present for himself as Middlesbrough downed Swansea.

The 26-year-old struck both goals, his first for the club, as Boro took the points with a 2-1 win over their play-off rivals.

The forward was only signed last month on a deal until January following his release by Sunderland, and he rewarded his manager’s faith with his double-salvo a day after the veteran boss turned 72.

And his match-winning display could be enough to have landed himself a contract extension – although Warnock is refusing to give too much away.

He said: “He’s only had one good game, let’s wait and see.

“We haven’t got anybody like that. He’s responsible, works hard, covers the most ground in training, and he deserved tonight.

“We gave him a round of applause in the dressing-room because he deserves it after what he has been through with horrendous injuries and he’ll go home and be on cloud nine.

“He’s a gem of a lad and we didn’t pay him for a few weeks.

“He got good offers to go away to India, South Africa, all sorts of places, but he said he loved it here.” 

As expected in the meeting of the Championship’s two meanest defences, the contest began like a chess match with neither backline barely giving an inch.

Finally, in the 19th minute, the game produced its first real opportunity when Jamal Lowe unleashed a fierce low drive that forced Marcus Bettinelli into a save.

Warnock was far from full of birthday cheer after Watmore was penalised for a foul on Marc Guehi moments later, screaming: “Duncan, the linesman is going to flag every time you go near the defender so don't breathe on him.”

But seconds later he and Watmore were shouting with joy.

Watmore cut in from the left before pulling the trigger from 20 yards – his strike deflecting off Guehi past the outstretched Freddie Woodman.

Woodman then denied Sam Morsy from close-range before Swans boss Steve Cooper made a triple change at the break, and he should have been instantly rewarded.

A mix-up led to Bettinelli spooning a clearance under-pressure from sub Viktor Gyokeres, but the Swede’s delay allowed Fry to deflect his shot over.

Woodman parried a Marvin Johnson long-ranger round the post as the hosts began to pile on the pressure, with the same man also nearly scoring direct from a corner and Morsy denied by a goalline clearance.


But it was Watmore who kept his cool after racing clear on the counter from Paddy McNair’s pass to double the advantage with his final touch before being replaced by George Saville on 78 minutes.

His work was done – but his team-mates were forced into a nervous finish when Yan Dhanda’s deflected strike from the edge of the area gave Swansea some hope with 12 to go.

But their late pressure failed to tell as Boro held on – leaving Warnock wondering Watmore he can expect from his two-goal ace.

Swansea boss Steve Cooper said: “It’s disappointing. Right from the start. There’s not many positives to take out of the game.

“The players know we dropped our standards and fell short.

“We always look at ourselves, and we can’t blame anything other than ourselves tonight as we were well short.”

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