WATFORD HOST Hull City this weekend in their penultimate n.Power Championship home fixture of the season.
The Tigers retain faint Play Off hopes and currently sit just four places and as many points off of sixth-placed Cardiff City.
Should home-town hero turned-manager Nicky Barmby deliver a top-six finish during his first half a season in management then the decision to turn to the former Liverpool, Everton and Spurs winger will have proved an absolute masterstroke. If the Tigers do however fall short it will have been an excellent effort nonetheless having lost former boss Nigel Pearson to his former employers Leicester City towards the back end of 2011.
Since being appointed manager of the Humberside outfit, Barmby has hung up his boots and handed over to the younger generation now on show at the KC Stadium – a side largely built by the aforementioned by Pearson before his protracted departure.
The squad is heavily re-enforced with former Manchester United protégés; the likes of Corry Evans, Joe Dudgeon, James Chester and Cameron Stewart all critical pillars at the club. Further loan additions Joshua King and Robbie Brady are also with City courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson.
One loanee who has returned to his parent club in the run-up to this weekend`s fixture is Liverpool reserve, Peter Gulasci. The Hungarian goalkeeper has been re-called by Kenny Dalglish to sit on the bench at Wembley this weekend with Liverpool`s current goalkeeping crisis leaving them with just one senior stopper.
The goalkeeping berth has been problematic for the Tigers and Gulasci was joined on loan by Arsenal youngster, Vito Mannone. The Italian ‘keeper has been the club`s number one for part of the season at least, making 17 appearances in his second loan spell from the Emirates. The 24 year-old stopper also made 10 league starts for the club last season.
Also kicking his heels amongst the plethora of goalkeepers at the KC Stadium is experienced Brazilian, Adriano Basso, formerly of Bristol City.
There are also problems for Barmby at the back with powerful centre back Jack Hobbs sidelined. Youngsters Liam Cooper – who spent a fruitless loan spell at Huddersfield Town earlier in the campaign should partner Chester at the heart of the defence. Cooper has just 14 career league starts, with only two of those coming at the Galpharm last year.
Striker Aaron McLean will also miss the rest of the season after tearing his hamstring recently, ruling the former Peterborough forward out for four weeks.
Hull`s big problem this season has been goal-scoring; averaging just one goal a game the Tigers have leant heavily on the goal-scoring experience of forward Matty Fryatt (12) and talismanic midfielder Robert Koren (10).
Such has been the positive impression made by Fryatt in a goal-shy side that the former Leicester City and Walsall hitman has been linked with a move away from Humberside this week, however, to his credit the 26 year-old has been quick to re-affirm his commitment to his employers. A diminutive, nippy little forward, the Nuneaton-born striker grabbed his 100th league goal in City`s late win over Middlesbrough on Monday afternoon.
In the midfield, Koren has been equally influential as the string-pulling playmaker. Seventeen goals in 77 league starts for his second English club isn`t a bad return but it`s the number of goals and opportunities that the 31 year-old Slovenian has created which really counts for something. A cultured passer with excellent vision, Koren arrived on these shores from Norwegian giants, Lillestrom.
Sean Dyche looks likely to be without one of his senior centre-backs once more, Adrian Mariappa still sidelined. Stephen McGinn is the only other absentee at the time of writing.
The Hornet`s boss looks likely to revert to 4-4-2 after going with five in midfield at Cardiff on Bank Holiday Monday.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Taylor, Nosworthy, Dickinson; Yeates, Eustace (c), Hogg, Murray; Iwelumo & Deeney.
Hull City: Mannone; Evans, Cooper, Chester, Dawson; Garcia, Koren (c), Cairney, Brady; King & Fryatt.
Referee: Mr P Dowd.