Date: 18th July 2006 at 5:03am
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Watford`s defence is the position that needs strengthening the most, according to the results of our online poll.

Over four out of ten fans who voted stated that the priority is for Aidy Boothroyd to strengthen his back four over the summer in preparation for the 2006/07 Premiership campaign.

Although the Watford supremo has captured the signature of former England international Chris Powell as competition for Jordan Stewart for the left-back berth, many supporters believe that the Hornets` defensive line is not adequately equipped to deal with attacking prowess of the top flight`s leading marksman.

Watford may well start the Premiership season with the centre-half pairing of Malky Mackay and Jay DeMerit, the same combination that finished the promotion campaign of 2005/06.

At 34, former Scotland international Malky Mackay will be making his Premiership debut. While the is no doubting the former Celtic, Norwich and West Ham defender`s vision and tenacity, there is a question whether he has the pace to deal with Premier League strikers. Nevertheless, Andy Johnson was no threat to the tough Scot during the two play-off semi-finals.

Jay DeMerit, however, is one player that looks like having no problem adapting to life in the top flight of English football. It is incredible to believe that the popular American was playing non-league football with Northwood Town two seasons ago. The 26-year-old started behind Clarke Carlisle in the centre-half pecking order but forced himself into the team and narrowly missed out on earning a spot in the USA`s World Cup squad.

Clarke Carlisle may start the season as third-choice centre-half with youngsters Adrian Mariappa and Sheku Kamara trying to force their way into Aidy Boothroyd`s plans.

Some fans may wish to see another central defender that can comfortably play in the Premiership signed over the summer. One name frequently being liked with a move to Vicarage Road is QPR`s Nigerian defender Danny Shittu. Though it is difficult in seeing Shittu being any more than fourth-choice centre-half.

Lloyd Doyley is likely to start the season at right-back with the versatile James Chambers – who can play at right or left back and on either side of midfield – challenging the former Academy player for a starting position. Local-boy Junior Osborne, 19, provides further cover at right-back but has played only a handful of first team games.

21% – the same number that also voted for the forward line to be strengthened – said that the position of goalkeeper needed strengthening. This percentage was higher until Sir Alex Ferguson announced that Ben Foster – who enjoyed a successful loan-spell at Watford last season – would rejoin Watford for another season.
Should Foster – who was placed on stand-by for England`s 2006 World Cup squad – pick up an injury it would mean either veteran Alec Chamberlain or youngster Scot Loach deputising for the Leamington Spa-born stopper.

42-year-old Chamberlain is currently the goalkeeper coach but is still on the playing books a Vicarage Road. 18-year-old Loach was signed from Lincoln City in the summer and has no first-team experience.

Just over a fifth of fans said that Watford`s strike force needed strengthening ahead of the 2006/7 Premiership campaign.

The first-choice pairing of Marlon King and Darius Henderson is likely to remain the same. The partnership bagged 36 goals between them at Championship level last term. Although both are unproven at Premiership level, they are likely to be a threat to any defence next season.

Wide-man Ashley Young – who scored 15 goals last term – is a more than able deputy for Boothroyd`s first-choice strikers, as he proved last season. Hameur Bouazza, – who spent part of last season on-loan at Swindon Town – would, at the moment, be regarded as the next in line for an attacking spot. Teenagers Francino Francis, Joel Grant and Claude Seanla may be players for the future.

Only 17% of fans that voted said that Watford`s midfield is the position that Aidy Boothroyd needs to strengthen the most.

Stevenage-born Ashley Young is likely to start the season on the left wing but it is unclear who will start the season on the opposing flank to the 21-year-old that bagged 15 goals for the Hornets last term.

Paul Devlin started the season in that position but left midway through the season for Walsall, then Chris Eagles, on-loan from Manchester United, played in that role until being dropped for the play-off semi-finals. The versatile James Chambers replaced Eagles at half-time during the first Palace match and retained that spot for the rest of the play-offs.

Other options on the right of midfield include Ashley Young and Anthony McNamee, who can also play on the left.

Captain Gavin Mahon has been the first-choice defensive midfielder for the past three seasons, though there are questionmarks whether the tough-tackling midfielder has the legs for the Premier League.

At present, his biggest rival for his place in the team is Al Bangura. The 18-year-old made his Watford debut in the final game of the 2004/05 season and has made 12 starts since. He has come on leaps and bounds under the guidance of Aidy Boothroyd and is sure to have a big future at Vicarage Road.

Dominic Blizzard might be on the periphery of the first-team squad next season but will need to improve rapidly to feature at Premiership level.

Former Luton Town midfielder Matthew Spring – who scored nine goals last campaign – made the attacking midfield spot his own last season but will face stiff competition this campaign from Damien Francis. The £1.5 million signing from Wigan featured 20 times for the Latics last term and has Premiership experience with Norwich City as well as the Lancashire outfit.

Watford`s other midfield options in their current squad – both attacking and defensive – include Alex Campana, Toumani Diagouraga, Ben Gill and Theo Robinson.

Recent press reports suggest that Aidy Boothroyd is after four more signings – it is likely that Watford fans will get their wish and the defence will be strengthened.

Poll results in full:

What position needs strengthening the most?

Goalkeeper 21%
Defence 41%
Midfield 17%
Attack 21%