After three home games in quick succession, Malky Mackay`s Hornet`s side travel to South Wales to take on Dave Jones` faltering Cardiff City. As ever the Bluebirds started the season on fire but have since fallen away. A 5-1 defeat at the hands of Newcastle United recently confirmed that City would really have to scrap if they were to claim a Play Off spot. Last season ended in heartbreak for Cardiff who ended up 7th on goal difference, a 6-1 defeat by Preston North End put paid to their Play Off hopes late in the day.
If Dave Jones is to finally drag Cardiff up into the Premier League, then the form of his star strikers Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra will be imperative. Equally important though will be that of former Villa midfield man and England U21 cap, Peter Whittingham. The gangly midfielder has been in sublime form this season and is the Championship`s top scorer with 14 goals (four of which have been penalties in fairness).
Whittingham arrived from Aston Villa for 350k back in 2007 having failed to really cement his place in the squad at Villa Park. Tomorrow`s game will be Whittingham`s 100th start for the South Wales club should he make the first eleven and his 99 league starts to date have brought the Derby County and Burnley loanee 29 goals. Manager Dave Jones recently claimed that Whittingham was `extremely laid-back` to a degree that it had hindered his progression in his career to date, stating that he believed the Nuneaton born winger could`ve played at a higher level with more application. However his languid style has been to Cardiff`s delight as another transfer window passed without their 26 year-old star man moving on.
Another jewel in the crown is 27 year-old former Watford loanee, Michael Chopra. The Newcastle United Academy graduate joined Cardiff on a freebie in 2006, spending a year with the Bluebirds before returning to the Premier League with newly-promoted Sunderland in £5m deal. However his spell at the Stadium of Light turned sour as he fell down the pecking order with the Wearsiders, injury and personal problems causing massive unrest for the Pakistani-born forward before he returned to Cardiff last January on loan. Four goals in thirteen starts was enough to persuade Dave Jones to cough up the cash and Chopra returned to City in a £4m swoop.
Holding it all together in the final third is powerful former Arsenal youngster Jay Bothroyd. Still only 28, the rangy forward has enjoyed his spell in South Wales with 20 league strikes in 68 starts. Not always the most popular with Bluebird`s fans, their main gripe being a lack of goals, Bothroyd is the perfect forward for the diminutive Chopra. A brief sojourn abroad with Perugia in Serie ‘A` saw a return of 5 goals in 17 games before he returned to these shores with a loan spell at Blackburn before joining Charlton and subsequently Wolves on a free.
Cardiff will be without a number of players for Saturday`s clash, though they can welcome back skipper Stephen McPhail who recently returned from having a malignant lump removed from the back of his neck. Missing out though is Welsh international winger-cum-full-back, Joe Ledley who is out following two hip ops. Centre halves Mark Hudson and Gabor Gypes are likely to miss out with ankle and hamstring problems whilst full back Kevin McNaughton is rated at doubtful due to a thigh strain. Finally, versatile fullback Miguel Comminges is out for the season with anterior cruciate ligament damage.
This all leaves Dave Jones with a very thin squad and certainly a very ‘second-string` looking backline. Youngster Adam Matthews at right back, linked with Manchester United recently, will be in for a hard afternoon against Tom Cleverley all being well, whilst Paul Quinn and Anthony Gerrard have been in and out of the side in the first season at Championship level. Arguable only converted left back Mark Kennedy, formerly of Liverpool, Millwall, Wolves and Crystal Palace is ‘first-choice` in his position.
Watford have a clean bill of health and Malky Mackay looks likely to have the luxury of naming the same starting eleven which dispatched with Ipswich Town on Tuesday night. Will Hoskins has recovered from cramp it`s been confirmed so Danny Graham won`t get an instant return to the first team.
Cardiff City: LWLLW
Likely Cardiff City XI
Matthews Quinn Gerrard Kennedy
Burke Blake McPhail (c) Whittingham
Likely Watford XI
Mariappa DeMerit (c) Taylor Doyley
Cowie Lansbury Eustace Cleverley