Date: 29th February 2012 at 10:08am
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Burnley play Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday knowing they have a bit of a mountain to climb if they are to get back on track to reach the play-offs by the end of the season.

The Pre-amble:

Burnley are currently in 11th spot having amassed 47 points from 33 games. Their form of late though has been very inconsistent and they have lost two on the bounce and have only won once in their last five games. It is their form though that can vary from the sublime to the atrocious which is of particular concern. In our last away game against high-flying Reading we played some really attractive football and despite the lion`s share of possession were unfortunate to lose the game 1-0.

Clarets fans were expecting that form to transfer to our last game at home to struggling Millwall; instead we probably played our worst game of the season looking lethargic and clueless before going down 3-1 to the Lions. You just never know which of our enigmatic sides is going to turn up but what is certain is that the inconsistency this season is likely to cost us a play-offs place unless we can go on an impressive run up to the end of the season.

We are already six points behind the sixth placed club, Cardiff and seven points behind the fifth placed club, Birmingham with both those clubs having a game advantage over the Clarets. It really does look like a mountain to climb to get back on track with just 13 games of the season remaining starting with Watford away this Saturday. Our fate is in our hands though and we still have to play both Cardiff (away) and Birmingham (home) so who knows what could still be achieved?

Watford are another side suffering from inconsistency. At the start of the season they were many pundits choice for relegation but at least they seem to have avoided that fate with Hornets manager, Sean Dyche having steadied the ship following the departure of Malky Mackay to Cardiff in June 2011. They are currently in 17th spot, seven points off the Clarets having played the same number of games but also crucially 12 points off the drop zone. It looks like they have nothing really to play for this season and that could be to our advantage. Their form is to say the least indifferent. They have however won three and drawn one of their last six league games but the two they have lost have been heavy defeats and they have also been their last two games played. They have conceded seven goals in their last two games without reply going down 4-0 away to Palace and then losing 3-0 at home to league leaders, Southampton in their last match.

This is certainly a winnable game for the Clarets but only if the right team turns up!

Watford Team News:

Defender, Martin Taylor has had a torrid season with injury. He suffered a setback in his return to full fitness after breaking his toe in a friendly with Dagenham & Redbridge in January. The 32-year-old centre half has not featured since October after undergoing surgery on a collarbone injury but could be close to a return.

Northern Ireland international full back Lee Hodson also missed the last game against the Saints following a bout of sickness but could now be set to return.

18 year old, academy scholar, Sean Murray has also missed the last two league games with a thigh strain but the midfielder could now be back in contention.

Meanwhile midfielder, Stephen McGinn looks close to a return after severely injuring his knee ligaments in a game at Doncaster Rovers back in March last season. He played his first competitive game for nearly a year after being given a 45 minute run out for Watford’s development side this week.

Player to watch: Troy Deeney

The Clarets will at least not need to worry about Marvin Sordell. The striker is still Watford`s leading goal scorer with ten goals this season but in January was transferred to Bolton Wanderers on a three-and-a-half year contract for an undisclosed fee.

Although not particularly prolific, Watford striker Troy Deeney comes highly recommended by Hornets fans. The editor of Vital Watford told me recently:

‘Up top you’ve got Troy Deeney who has really won me over this season. He works his socks off every week and although he will never get 20 goals a season he has improved his tally this season but he does bring so much more to the side than just goals.`

The 23 year old Birmingham-born forward came through Aston Villa`s youth system but he finished up playing non-league football for Chelmsley Town before being spotted by Walsall in December 2006. Watford brought him to Vicarage Road in August 2010 for a fee thought to be about £500.000.

He is Watford`s joint second highest scorer this season with 5 goals in all competitions.

Burnley Team News:

Marney missed out last Saturday against Millwall on compassionate grounds following the birth of his child and his wife then also suffering complications. Chris McCann picked up a hamstring injury in the same game and was replaced before half-time. Both though could return for the Watford clash.

Josh McQuoid is also expected to return. The on-loan striker was ineligible to play against his parent club, Millwall on Saturday.

Junior Stanislas is also thought to be close to a return after being sidelined with a hamstring injury picked up in the game away to Middlesbrough back in January.

Player to watch: Josh McQuoid

There is now some talk that Burnley could be tempted to try and seal a permanent deal for the Millwall striker-cum-winger in the summer. He seems to be highly rated and has generally impressed since arriving on loan from Millwall. He could be influential against the Hornets and it would be nice to see him get on the score-sheet

Team & Tactics:

It is hoped that both Marney and McCann will return to the starting eleven. Josh McQuoid too is also likely to be named in the starting eleven with Keith Treacy it seems unable to make an impression. That could change though if it is announced that Stanislas is now fit to play following his hamstring injury.

Unless there is some bad news on the injury front, we can probably expect a 4-4-2 type formation and I suspect we will line-up something like this:

Grant, Trippier, Edgar, Duff, Mee, Wallace, Marney, Bartley (McCann if fit), McQuoid, Rodriguez, Austin.

Subs: Jensen, Easton, Bartley (if McCann fit), Ings, Paterson

If McCann is not fit to play, we would have little option but to play both Bartley and Marney in the centre of midfield. That would mean Howe could have a difficult choice for the fifth place on the bench. Keith Treacy would seem to be the obvious choice unless Stanislas is back in contention but the former Preston winger has been in terrible form of late and Howe could decide to name maybe defender, Danny Lafferty or striker Zavon Hines. The only other option would be the unlikely return of Andre Amougou but at least he could then be considered either as cover for the back four or as a makeshift midfielder.

Ref Watch:

Burnley’s game against the Hornets on Saturday will be refereed by Michael Naylor from South Yorkshire. He was in charge of a game featuring the Clarets only recently when he refereed our match at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest a month ago. Our 2-0 victory there will hopefully be a good omen for the Watford clash. It was also a match where no cards were shown Naylor has been in charge of 23 games this season so far and he has shown a total of four red cards and 77 yellows.

Match Prediction:

The Law of Averages suggests we must surely get at least one away draw this season! Burnley are not firing on all cylinders at the moment although our away form has generally been good with eight wins so far this season on the road. Watford also have suffered from inconsistency but generally seem to be playing better these days although they have lost their last two games heavily without getting on the score sheet..

There are usually quite a lot of goals when these two sides meet and I think this time we will share the spoils. I will go for 2-2 which would be a repeat of the result against the Hornets in the reverse fixture at Turf Moor on the opening day of the season. Sadly a point is probably not enough if we still have hopes of reaching the play-offs so I am hoping we can sneak it somehow.

Next Match:

We play Crystal Palace at Turf Moor on Saturday 10th March (Kick-Off 3pm)