PRIOR to yesterday, Yannick Bolasie’s last goal in English football was a last-minute equaliser for Aston Villa against Preston in October 2018.

The 31-year-old has been on something of a footballing magical mystery tour in the last two-and-a-half years, stopping off at Anderlecht and Sporting Lisbon while being ignored by his parent club Everton, but the one thing he wanted more than anything else was the opportunity to prove himself in England. Middlesbrough gave him that chance, and having headed home yesterday’s 78th-minute equaliser, he finally has another Championship goal to his name.

The big question now is what happens next. While Bolasie’s leveller might have damaged Watford’s hopes of overhauling Norwich City to claim the title, it was surely insufficient to keep Boro’s promotion ambitions alive. With Barnsley, Reading and Bournemouth all winning, the Teessiders ended the day nine points adrift of the play-off positions with six games to play. Not impossible, but as good as.

Thoughts, therefore, are turning to next season, with Bolasie’s future one of a number of situations that will have to be resolved in the next few weeks. Having pushed hard to sign him on two separate occasions, first when a proposed loan deal fell through on deadline-day at the start of the season and then again when things were resolved successfully in January, Warnock clearly rates the winger.

He would like to keep him on Teesside next season, but accepts that finances might make it difficult to pull off a deal. Bolasie is due to become a free agent in June, and will almost certainly not be short of offers. But having finally started to get his career back on track, might it not be a good idea for him to put football ahead of finance and commit to another 12 months at Boro, playing for a manager who clearly values him?

“We need both sides covering – left and right,” said Warnock. “It just depends on the financial packages and things like that though – there’s so much to do. We’ve got to get through these next six games and then see what’s what.

“It’s difficult for someone like Yannick, who has hardly played. One or two people made comments after the Bournemouth game about Yannick and Mendez (Nathaniel Mendez-Laing), but they haven’t played for months. Just to even have them on the bench has been a real plus for us.”

Bolasie spent the first 73 minutes of yesterday’s game on the sidelines, and his introduction alongside fellow substitute Chuba Akpom helped transform things.

Up until that stage, Boro had just about kept Watford at arm’s length without really threatening to hurt their opponents. With Bolasie and Akpom on the field to provide an attacking focal point that was missing for more than an hour, the Teessiders were a completely different proposition.

For most of the final quarter-of-an-hour, Boro were the dominant force; for most of the previous 75 minutes, it was Watford that were in the ascendancy.

Xisco Munoz’s side went into yesterday’s game having won ten of their last 11 matches, so it was hardly a surprise that they were comfortable on the ball and keen to dictate from the off.

By the midway point of the first half, the visitors had enjoyed more than 75 per cent of possession, and while it took them a while to translate that dominance into goalscoring opportunities, it always felt a matter of time before they started asking serious questions of the Boro defence.

Philip Zinckernagel fired in a deflected shot that looped over the crossbar in the tenth minute and Ken Sema side-footed a first-time effort wide of the post three minutes later, but the game was meandering along with precious little in the way of goalmouth excitement when Watford suddenly opened the scoring in controversial fashion shortly after the half-hour mark.

Marcus Bettinelli saved Sema’s shot from the corner of the area, but Marc Bola’s attempted clearance was intercepted by Zinckernagel. He fired in a shot from 25 yards, and the ball deflected inadvertently off Ismaila Sarr’s heel before wrong-footing Bettinelli and flying into the net.

Boro’s players were incensed, with some appealing for a possible handball as Zinckernagel brought the ball under control and others claiming that Sarr was in an offside position when his team-mate let fly.

Those appealing for offside were wrong – Sarr was being played onside by both Darnell Fisher and Djed Spence, who were slow to push out – but George Saville, who was leading the appeals for handball, had more of a case as replays showed that the ball struck Zinckernagel’s arm as he controlled it.

Referee Tim Robinson should probably have blown for a foul, although Boro’s players were their own worst enemies with three opportunities to clear the 18-yard box being spurned. Jonny Howson made a mess of the first two, before Bola was also found wanting as he looped the ball towards Zinckernagel.

Ahead at half-time, Watford were well placed to crank up the pressure on Norwich at the top of the table, but the visitors lost their way somewhat in the second half, perhaps content to sit on their lead rather than look to extend their advantage.

They had chances to score a second, most notably when Joao Pedro side-footed wide after a pull-back from Sarr and curled a side-footed shot wide of the upright after a through ball from Sema, but found themselves gradually forced back as Boro’s ambition increased.

Hayden Coulson’s first-half appearance as a replacement for the injured Sam Morsy was a surprise – the full-back found himself repositioned as a ‘number ten’ playing just behind Duncan Watmore – but Warnock kept things much simpler when he threw on Bolasie and Akpom with 17 minutes left. The fact that Ashley Fletcher remained unused on the substitutes’ bench spoke volumes for his standing as he continues to refuse to sign the contract that was offered to him earlier this spring.

Bolasie had only been on the field for five minutes when he claimed his leveller, with Paddy McNair’s perfectly-flighted free-kick enabling him to power home a header from eight yards.

“I made that goal, not Paddy,” said Warnock. “Did you see him (Bolasie) come over? He was coming to take the free-kick, Yannick, so I yelled at him, ‘Get in the box’. Then he goes and scores.”

Bolasie’s celebrations proved just how much the goal meant to him, and while Watford might be the side who will spend the next four weeks battling for automatic promotion, it was Boro who spent the final ten minutes looking most likely to claim a winner.

It didn’t arrive, but after last Friday’s tame capitulation at Bournemouth, at least Warnock could be happy with his players’ response.

“The way Watford are playing at the minute, they’re absolutely flying, we had to be as though we were playing away from home,” said the Boro boss. “I thought structurally, we were proper. It might have looked a little bit negative, but they’d have passed through us and killed us."