Writer: Tom Bodell
Date:Thursday January 10 2013
WATFORD return to N.Power Championship action this Saturday as they head to the North East to take on Tony Mowbray's high-flying Middlesbrough.
'Boro sit fourth in the Championship after 26 games and after a couple of seasons of steady progression under the former Hibernian, West Brom and Celtic, this looks like the season they could finally return to the top-flight.
The Teessiders have been in the Championship for four seasons now following relegation but after struggling for home form last season, their imperious form at the Riverside - second best in the division - could well help them back to the Premier League.
With 10 victories in front of their own supporters - second only to Cardiff's 12 - the trip to Middlesbrough this Saturday will serve as a perfect test of Watford's credentials this season.
The Hornets, though, enjoy the joint-second best away form in the division, with six wins on the road - only second-placed Hull City better that with seven.
Even The Football League Show have sat up and taken notice of what could be tasty tie, pencilling the clash in for extended highlights on the Beeb this Saturday evening (or Sunday morning!).
Central to 'Boro's success has been the form of Australian forward, Scott McDonald.
The former Southampton, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Wimbledon, Motherwell and Celtic forward fell out favour with Mowbray spectacularly in pre-season, meaning he didn't make a first-team appearance until he scored against the 'Orns at the Vic' in October to hand his side victory.
With 10 goals from 20 league and cup appearances, the Australian international has quickly re-established himself as a key part of Mowbray's side.
McDonald's overall record at 'Boro is impressive, with 34 Championship goals in just 90 starts.
Mowbray had previously worked with the diminutive forward at Celtic Park, where the 26-cap Aussie bagged a whopping 51 SPL goals from just 84 starts for the Bhoys.
In the centre of midfield, former Ipswich Town and Sunderland enforcer Grant Leadbitter has missed just one league game so far.
Signed on a free transfer from the Tractor Boys over the summer following the expiry of his contract, the Houghton-le-Spring born midfielder spent six years at Sunderland before returning to the North East this summer.
A combative, box-to-box type, Leadbitter made 112 Championship starts during his time in Suffolk, having been brought to the club by Roy Keane for the princely sum of £2.6m.
Leadbitter had also worked under Keane at the Stadium of Light, having come through the club's academy setup before going on to make 111 league starts for the Black Cats before following Keane to Portman Road.
An England U16, U17, U19, U20 & U21 international, Leadbitter helped Sunderland to the Championship title in 2007.
Alongside Leadbitter in midfield is Chelsea loanee, Josh McEachran.
Tipped as the 'bright young thing' emerging from Stamford Bridge a couple of years back, McEachran is finally taking those decisive steps in the game on-loan at the Riverside.
A small, neat, technically-adept, ball-playing midfielder, McEachran has found first-team opportunities hard to come by at Stamford Bridge in spite of the hype surrounding him.
Still jut 19, McEachran spent the second-half of last season on-loan at Brendan Rodgers' Swansea City, making four top-flight appearances in the process.
In 2010 McEachran made his Blues' bow in the Champions League in 2010 - in doing so, he became the first player to play in the competition born after it's inception in 1992.
That December McEachran made his Premier League debut at Chelsea took on Manchester City, and to date, the England U16, U17, U19, and U21 international has made 11 top-flight appearances for the Blues, with a further six appearances in Europe.
Middlesbrough have a string of injury concerns to contend with, including Andrew Halliday (broken nose), Jonathan Woodgate (calf), Justin Hoyte (hip), Julio Arca (toe), Mustafa Carayol (knee) and Curtis Main (knee), all of whom are out.
Furthermore, Seb Hines, Marvin Emnes, Andre Bikey, George Friend, Jorge Ledesma and McEachran will all be assessed ahead of Saturday.
Gianfranco Zola has no such problems with John Eustace, Lloyd Doyley and Nyron Nosworthy all returning to action against Manchester City last Saturday.
Manuel Almunia, Almen Abdi, Fitz Hall, Tommie Hoban Jonathan Hogg remain doubts after missing the trip to the Etihad either through injury or to be rested.
More up-to-date team news is now AVAILABLE HERE.
Referee: Mr M Brown.
Date:Thursday January 10 2013
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