Palace Preview - Home, March 30th
THE Hornet`s busy March schedule draws to an end tomorrow night as Watford take on fellow relegation-battlers Crystal Palace at the Vic` in what is sure to be a season-defining clash between the 21st and 22nd placed sides.
After a much-improved performance on Saturday and a point against 9th placed Middlesbrough the Hornet`s will be looking for four points in as many days with the visit of Paul Hart`s low-flying Eagles.
It has been a horrific couple of months for the South Londoners who were embarking on a daring play-off bid before the turn of the year however crippling financial problems finally came to the fore and the administrators were called in. Unsurprisingly the star assets were sold, including nippy forward Victor Moses who joined Wigan Athletic for £2.5m whilst Portuguese centre half Jose Fonte jumped ship to join League One outfit Southampton for £800k. Equallly predictably manager Neil Warnock left the strugglers to join London rivals, Queens Park Rangers in a deal which netted Palace a hefty compensation fee. Administrator Brendan Guilfoyle was still understandably unhappy with Warnock`s exit though.
Left with a sparse, paper-thin squad, littered with kids not up to the job and a manager in Paul Hart who`s on his third job of the season (after Pompey and QPR), the odds are stacked again the Eagles.
One man who did stick around is midfielder Neil Danns; despite being linked heavily with a move to Southampton the former Birmingham and Colchester man eventually stayed put after a final day deal failed to materialize. A creative force in the Palace midfield Danns has really settled into life at Selhurst Park after failing to ever really command a first-team berth at former club Birmingham. Having helped Colchester United win promotion from League One the 27 year-old moved to St Andrews for 500k before leaving halfway through the 07/08 after failing to break into the Blues midfield. Seven goals from midfield put the dreadlocked part-time r`n`b star amongst Palace`s highest scorers for the campaign.
Top-scorer Darren Ambrose has proved to be an astute signing by former gaffer Warnock. Signed on a free after his contract at Charlton expired the wideman has been rejuvenated at Selhurst grabbing 13 goals in his first 37 league starts as an Eagle. Another 5 in 7 F.A Cup games plus a 2 in 2 record in this years League Cup mean the Harlow-born former Newcastle and Ipswich winger will be a threat against the 'Orns.
Big frontman and Trinidad legend Stern John has recently returned to Palace after a loan spell with Roy Keane`s Ipswich. Having dislocated his shoulder earlier in the season the former Sunderland, Southampton and Coventry forward spent two months up at Portman Road on loan before returning South as players left Palace on mass. He`s still yet to open his account as an Eagle and has only one strike this term, that coming against former club Coventry whilst on loan in East Anglia.
Another man forced back into the firs-team reckoning this term has been big forward Alan Lee. The Republic of Ireland cap spent the end of last season on loan at Norwich City after failing to impress following a 900k move from rivals Ipswich Town the previous Summer. Just 8 goals in 41 league starts for Palace represent a pretty miserly return from the former Rotherham, Cardiff, Torquay, Burnley, Port Vale and Villa forward though his 6`1", 13+ stone frame will cause problems for Martin Taylor and Jay DeMerit.
At the back youngster Nathaniel Clyne looks more than likely to leave in the Summer, former manager Neil Warnock is keen to take him (and Ambrose) to Loftus Road but a host of Premier League clubs will have other ideas. Since bursting onto the scene last season the fleet-footed 18 year-old has clocked up 6 short of 50 starts in the red and blue stripes scoring just the once. Capable of playing on either flank his pace and penetration will keep the Hornet`s wideman on their toes.
On the opposite flank is veteran Clint Hill, scorer of Palace`s equalizer against Cardiff on Saturday. An old-fashioned, hard-as-nails, ask questions later style defender, Hill signed from Stoke City in 2007, initially on loan he became a permanent Eagle in January `08 and to date has made 109 starts in South London at centre or left back. Alongside Hill at centre back is likely to be Paddy McCarthy. The Irishman returned at the weekend following injury and looks likely to partner veteran utility man Matthew Lawrence at centre-half though former Derby, PNE and Sheffield United defender Claude Davis is also in contention. A Manchester City youth team grad, McCarthy signed for Palace`s rivals Charlton initially before joining Palace in a swap deal for Mark Hudson in 2008. Injury has restricted him to just 38 Eagles league starts in two-and-a-half-years.
Watford: Tom Cleverley - 30 League Starts + 0 Sub Apps (11 Goals)
Crystal Palace: Darren Ambrose - 37 + 2 (13)
Crystal Palace: DLDLL
Likely Watford XI
Mariappa DeMerit (c) Taylor Doyley
Cowie Eustace Lansbury Cleverley
Likely Crystal Palace XI
Ertl McCarthy Davis C.Hill
Danns Derry (c) Danns Andrew