Home Form Faces Biggest Test
Friday, 8th Feb 2008 10:37
Town's excellent home form faces its biggest test of the season on Saturday when second-placed Watford bring the division's top away record to Portman Road. The Blues have few injury concerns aside from Alan Quinn, who has a minor ankle problem.
The Blues have the division's best home record having gone 19 league games without a defeat at Portman Road, while the Hornets have won nine and drawn three of their 15 Championship away trips this season.
Boss Jim Magilton says he expects Watford to be one of the clubs fighting it out for automatic promotion come May: “Any team that finishes above Watford are likely to get themselves promoted.
“With three points against them this weekend we will move up within striking distance of them.
“It is an opportunity for us to be in a position to move on and make this a fantastic season.”
Magilton is unlikely to make too many changes to his side after last week's first away victory of the season at Sheffield Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is likely to be one of three players making their home debuts, with midfielder David Norris also likely to be in the starting line-up with Macedonian international Velice Sumulikoski probably coming off the bench at some stage.
Jason De Vos and Alex Bruce are likely to continue at the centre of the defence, although Richard Naylor is pushing for a start, with Dan Harding at left-back and David Wright on the other flank.
Spanish full-back Sito misses the final game of his three-match ban for his red card at Blackpool and Magilton has hinted that the former Racing Club de Ferrol man might find it hard to win back his place: “Dan Harding has shown what is needed after being left out for a number of weeks.
“He continued to work hard and showed the right attitude to get back in the team and he has come back a better and fresher player.”
Alan Quinn, last week's goal hero at Hillsborough, is likely to continue on the left of midfield despite his ankle problem, while Owen Garvan is expected to fill one of the central roles after his hugely impressive performance for the Irish U21s in midweek.
Velice Sumulikoski played the full 90 minutes for Macedonia against Serbia on Wednesday and returned to Portman Road on Thursday evening. The midfielder will probably only be on the bench having rarely trained with the rest of the squad since making his move to Portman Road.
Magilton has decisions to make regarding the rest of his midfield with David Norris either being used on the right, as he was at Sheffield Wednesday, or alongside Garvan.
The Town manager may prefer to use the former Plymouth man in the centre instead of Tommy Miller, allowing Jon Walters to move back to the right-sided position he occupied earlier in the season.
Walters switching to midfield would allow Alan Lee, who scored at Hillsborough after being introduced from the bench, to come back into the starting line-up up front with Pablo Couñago. Alternatively, Magilton may choose to drop Couñago and use Walters and Lee as his starting pair with Tommy Miller keeping his place in midfield.
Gavin Williams was back in action for the reserves at Grays in midweek after his thigh problem, but Dean Bowditch missed that game due to a groin injury. Jordan Rhodes netted twice in the second string's 4-2 win and could be included in the first team squad after recovering from the minor knock which kept him out of contention a week ago.
Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd expects a match of contrasting approaches: "It's a game we're looking forward to. Portman Road is an intimidating place to go, they've got 17,000 season ticket holders and they get that place bouncing.
"They will pass and play, we've got to be a match for that. We need to defend resolutely, counter-attack and our use our set plays. It's going to be a mixture of styles."
Midfielders Jobi McAnuff and Lee Williamson are both suspended, but Boothroyd is able to call on Danny Shittu, who has returned from international duty with Nigeria at the African Nations Cup. Jay DeMerit, Damien Francis and Collins John are all out injured.
Town have generally had the better of the Hornets over the years, winning 24 times (21 in the league), drawing on 14 (14) occasions and losing 17 (16) of the clashes between the two sides.
Earlier in the season, Watford beat the Blues 2-0 at Vicarage Road via goals from Darius Henderson and Tommy Smith. The Hornets' last visit to Portman Road was back in October 2005 when an Ashley Young goal gave the Hertfordshire club a 1-0 victory.
Saturday's referee is former Premier League official Andy D'Urso from Billericay, who has shown 60 yellow cards and one red in 28 games this season. D'Urso, not a popular figure amongst Town fans, last took control of the Blues in August when Crystal Palace came to Portman Road and were defeated 1-0.
Likely squad: Bywater, Colgan, Wright, Harding, De Vos, Bruce, Naylor, Wilnis, Garvan, Miller, Norris, Quinn, Sumulikoski, Walters, Trotter, Williams, Lee, Couñago, Haynes, Rhodes.
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