Watford vs Fulham Preview: Cottagers on brink of relegation
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It's been a torrid season, and any hope of salvation could be dashed in just 90 more minutes. Fulham travel to Vicarage Road on Tuesday evening knowing that they must take points off Watford to keep their hopes of top flight football for next season alive.

Former Hornets manager Slaviša Jokanović was axed in November after a return of just five points from the opening 12 games. His successor, a Premier League winner in the shape of Claudio Ranieri, fared little better, failing to deliver the spectacular relegation escape longed for by the club's fans.

Now, former player Scott Parker sits at the helm. His introduction to management has certainly been a harsh one, losing all of his first four games, though it must also be considered that the teams Fulham have faced so far under Parker all currently sit in the top half of the table.

The 38-year old is expected to be backed for the upcoming season, which will now almost certainly be in the Championship.

Meanwhile, life has been more generous to Watford and their head coach, Javi Gracia. The Hornets can move up to 7th with a win here and also have a FA Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers to look forward to at the weekend.

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They return to their home venue after a narrow 2-1 loss away at Manchester United, a game in which the visitors put on a valiant display but left with nothing to show for their efforts. The Red Devils scored on the counter-attack from Marcus Rashford before Anthony Martial added a scrappy second, though these were arguably against the run of play and Abdoulaye Doucouré's superb late consolation was the least his side deserved.

Previous meetings

The reverse fixture back in September saw Watford visit Craven Cottage buoyant after a sensational start to the season saw them poised at 4th in the table. Andre Gray notched an early goal for the away side, but Aleksandar Mitrović equalised in the 78th minute to see the points shared.

That was just the third Premier League encounter between the two teams, and the other two also ended in draws back in the 2006/07 campaign.

Fulham have failed to beat Watford in all of the last five meetings, drawing three and losing two. Their last win at Vicarage Road came in 2001 in the First Division, the former second tier of English football.

View from the dugout

Gracia is eager to secure three points from this tie and believes it will prepare his side in the greatest possible fashion ahead of Sunday's semi-final.

"I think the best way to prepare for that important game we play on Sunday is to try and win the next game. That is the best way to respect the FA Cup and the Premier League as well."

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The Spaniard also feels a degree of sympathy for his opponents, bearing in mind that victory for his side will ultimately relegate them alongside Huddersfield Town who bowed down from the top tier on Saturday.

"If they are in this situation at this moment, it's because they had had problems for a long period, not just now or tomorrow. I know the next game is very important for them, and I am very sorry for them.

"I know what it's like to be sacked, to be relegated with my home-town team. But we are professionals and we must always try to do our best to win the next game."

In the opposite dugout, Parker is aware of the arduous task at hand but is desperate to ensure that his side live to fight another day by securing a crucial win at Vicarage Road.

"A win is vitally important," he said. "The scenario is what it is, but it's a massive game for us to not be relegated on the night. The team, the club and everyone need a win.

"Performances have got better but ultimately we sit here with no wins for some time, so the result is key. We understand how tough it's going to be to stay in this division. Even a draw could give us something to build on."

Needless to say that the former midfielder saw his job made even more burdensome after he inherited a downbeat squad demotivated by their results, and Parker admits that revitalising the players has been his biggest obstacle of all.

"That's the biggest challenge, trying to keep players focused in the sense of our predicament. Of course confidence is low; it's about trying to keep players motivated and trying to raise ourselves.

"It's been a tough year, a really tough year. There are scars, that's what happens when you are where we are. We have to lift it, keep raising the standards and hopefully things will turn and we'll get some results."

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Team news

Tom Cleverley is suffering from a calf tear and is likely to miss the FA Cup semi-final next weekend.

In more encouraging news for Watford, Gray and José Holebas have overcome minor setbacks and are in contention to feature, though forwards Isaac Success and Adalberto Peñaranda have been forced onto the sidelines.

Hornets head coach Gracia will certainly have the upcoming trip to Wembley Stadium in mind when considering his team selection.

Meanwhile, Mitrović missed Fulham's defeat at home to Manchester City a week ago and will have to be monitored for a stomach problem.

Jean Michaël Seri and Tim Ream could return after international duty with the Ivory Coast and United States respectively.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Masina; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sema; Deeney, Gray.

Fulham — Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Chambers, Ream, Bryan; McDonald, Seri; Schürrle, Cairney, Babel; Mitrović.

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