WATFORD COMPLETE their 2011/12 campaign this Saturday as they host Tony Mowbray`s Middlesbrough who are scrapping to earn themselves a Play Off place.
`Boro have faltered of late and a run of just two wins in their last 10 league fixtures has cost the north east side badly and with a two-point deficit to make up on Cardiff City, only a win will do.
Whether ‘Boro make the top six or not, it has certainly been a season of marked improvement for the Teesside outfit who dispatched with Gordon Strachan`s services partway through last season. Former ‘Boro skipper and fan`s favourite Mowbray has got the club moving in the right direction once more, despite a budget cut.
Much like the Hornets, Middlesbrough are heavily reliant on the talents they can produce themselves, and a quick glance at their current first-team squad list shows 12 players who have come through the academy set up at the club. Graduating from the academy is of course only half the battle and the fact that Mowbray is keen to promote youth where necessary is integral to the continued production line at the Riverside Stadium.
However, the former Hibernian, West Brom and Celtic manager has brought some of his own imports to the club, one of those being former Coventry City and Everton striker, Lukas Jutkiewicz. Fellow forwards Bart Ogbeche and Curtis Main have been brought to the club under Mowbray`s stewardship. Winger Adam Hammill has also arrived on loan having failed to make an impact at Wolves following his move from Barnsley just over a year ago.
Playing at home has proved something of an issue for Middlesbrough, with just eight home league victories recorded and a further 10 draws to boot, it`s easy to see where the critical points have gone astray.
That inconsistency, coupled with their profligacy in front of goal has seriously threatened to damage their remaining Play-Off aspirations for good. Just 22 scored at home this season ranks the fourth lowest in the division, only Palace (21), Forest (19) and Doncaster (20) have bagged less in front of their own fans.
The aforementioned Jutkiewicz can holds his hands for contributing in that department, just two goals in 16 league starts since a goalless loan spell was made permanent for the princely sum of £1.3m.
The Southampton-born Polish striker enjoyed more goal-rich times at struggling Coventry where he notched 18 in 59 league starts following a free transfer from Everton.
Top scorer Marvin Emnes has 13, but the Dutchman is hardly an out-an-out striker. The club`s number nine is given something a free role and floats around between the midfield and forward`s creating havoc with his pace, guile, trickery and direct running.
After a slow start to his ‘Boro career, the 23 year old attacker benefitted hugely from a loan spell at Brendan Rodgers` Swansea, where he re-ignited his English career with two from just three starts.
Full-back Justin Hoyte (knee) is doubtful for Saturday whilst Emnes has a knee issue which is being ‘managed` at present. Skipper Matthew Bates is out with cruciate ligament damage once more whilst veteran ‘keeper Danny Coyne has a back problem. Versatile midfielder-cum-defender Rhys Williams is also back into the fold following injury.
Sean Dyche could look to blood some youngsters with very little riding on the game for the Hornet`s other than league places. Gavin Massey made the squad at Peterborough and could well be in line for a start.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Taylor, Nosworthy, Dickinson; Buaben, Eustace (c), Hogg, Murray; Iwelumo & Deeney.
Middlesbrough: Coyne; Hoyte, McManus, Hines, McMahon; Bailey; Robson (c), Haroun; Zemmama; McDonald & Jutkiewicz.