Middlesbrough Preview - Home, March 27th
AFTER the disappointment of defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on…Wednesday, the Hornet`s take on Gordon Strachan`s rejuvenated Middlesbrough outfit. As we all well know by now, Middlesbrough were the last team we beat away from home, way back in October 2009. Saturday`s fixture represent`s a massive game for Malky Mackay`s side as a defeat coupled with a Crystal Palace win at home to Cardiff City would see Watford drop into the relegation zone. Fingers crossed.
The arrival of Gordon Strachan initially took Middlesbrough backwards. Third in the league and just a point of automatic promotion, the decision to sack Watford-born gaffer Gareth Southgate came at a strange time. The arrival of Gordon Strachan appeared popular, fans disillusioned with the negative football on offer under for England centre-half Southgate. However 'Boro slipped alarmingly towards mid-table before a recent resurgence has seen the Teesider`s climb up to ninth, just three places and six points behind the Play-Off pack.
January was an extremely busy period for former Soton, Coventry and Celtic gaffer Strachan who brought in no less than seven players, all of whom but one moved from North of the border and the SPL. Five of the seven signings were brought in from Strachan`s most recent club Celtic - strikers Chris Killen and Scott McDonald as well as ex-skipper Stephen McManus and midfielders Barry Robson and Willo Flood. Former Aberdeen striker Lee Miller also moved South whilst Kyle Naughton, formerly of Sheffield United penned a loan deal until the end of the campaign from Spurs.
Ex-Celtic manager, Tony Mowbray`s decision to rapidly dismantle the squad Strachan created at Parkhead was to the advantage of the flame-haired former Manchester United winger who was able to add the firepower of Aussie Scott McDonald and Kiwi Chris Killen for a nominal amount. After 51 in 84 for Celtic, Australian cap McDonald only has one in seven for 'Boro, but given time to settle he could prove a decent addition. Killen has experience in the Football League already having been at Oldham, Wrexham and Port Vale before heading to the SPL and Hibernian. Incredibly the Kiwi cap only managed 4 starts with the Old Firm side, scoring twice. Having penned a deal until the end of the season Killen has rewarded Strachan`s faith with 3 goals in his first 11 starts in the North East.
Further striking options are available with Jeremie Alliadiere, Leroy Lita and Dutch winger-cum-forward Marvin Emnes.
At the back, Aussie stopper Brad Jones had an impressive start to last season before being dropped for now-Chelsea stopper, Ross Turnbull. Jones is now back in control of the number one jersey although Danny Coyne has impressed during a couple of spells between the sticks whilst the young 'keeper was injured.
Centre-half David Wheater is surely an England international in the making. Having made his debut for his hometown club back in 2007, scoring on his Premier League debut at Fulham, the week before he scored on loan at Darlington in a 2-1 defeat at Barnet. A powerful defender who dominates aerially thanks to his 6`4", Wheater is a threat at set plays and has 6 goals in 108 league starts for 'Boro. Fellow centre-back Emmanuel Pogatetz is touch and go as to whether he will feature or not despite making his comeback slightly early against Preston in midweek - Strachan noted his lack of fitness but cited his physicality as the reason for his inclusion.
Injury has robbed Strachan of a few homegrown talents at the back, Tony McMahon, Matthew Bates and Seb Hines are all currently out with a range of long-term problems meaning that former Sheffield United speedster Kyle Naughton has been thrown straight in. A pacey full back capable of playing on either flank Naughton moved with namesake Walker last season to Spurs in a £6m deal.
In midfield, new boy Willo Flood is out for the season whilst Argentine utility man Julio Arca is virtually back from illness and may feature at the Vic`. Gary O`Neill is also likely to feature somewhere along the line after also being ill. Up top Jeremie Alliadiere and Scott McDonald are both out with toe and hamstring injuries.
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Watford look set to name the same eleven beaten by Sheffield Wednesay on Tuesday although Henri Lansbury may be back in contention. Winger Will Buckley could be in line for a start after an impressive debut at Cardiff while new loanee Ryan Noble is likely to start amongst the subs.
Watford: Tom Cleverley - 29 starts + 0 sub apps (11 goals)
Middlesbrough: Leroy Lita - 21 + 13 (7)
Likely Watford XI
Mariappa DeMerit (c) Taylor Doyley
Cowie Jenkins Eustace Cleverley
Likely Middlesbrough XI
Hoyte McManus Wheater Taylor
Miller Williams Robson O`Neill