Watford vs Crystal Palace preview: Hornets seek precious points
Photo by Getty Images/Marc Atkins

The situation is only getting more acutely urgent by the week. Watford are already seven points adrift of safety in the Premier League table, and the sooner they can heave themselves from the foot of the standings, the better for their increasingly threatened status as a top flight club.

As such, the Hornets will be targeting no fewer than three points here for the visit of Crystal Palace. Under-23s manager and interim head coach Hayden Mullins will take charge of his second and final match as first team boss, before the new man Nigel Pearson takes over the helm next week.

Mullins' first assignment saw Watford lose at high-flyers Leicester City on Wednesday, with Jamie Vardy and James Maddison providing the goals, but the depressing inevitability of the result was somewhat counteracted by the relative positivity of their performance. Certainly, there were aspects which the 40-year old and the squad will want to carry into this fixture.

For Palace, meanwhile, the going is much smoother. Under the measured guidance of Roy Hodgson, they currently sit seventh in the table and, with none of the top six or Leicester to play until mid-January, will be aiming to improve their position further.

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The Eagles earned an impressive victory in midweek against AFC Bournemouth where, despite being reduced to ten men in the first half, they dug deep to restrict their opponents to scant and low-quality chances and capitalised on their own when Jeffrey Schlupp scored in the 75th minute.

Perhaps they will be hoping to produce a similarly resilient and clinical showing in Hertfordshire on Saturday against a Watford side that can ill afford to slip up in fixtures such as this.

Previous meetings

March saw the most recent meeting between the sides when, in front of the eyes of an expectant Vicarage Road, Watford secured their place in the FA Cup semi-finals. Étienne Capoue put the Hornets ahead after 27 minutes but Michy Batshuayi evened the scores with half an hour to go. Then, up stepped Andre Gray to notch a late winner to send his side to Wembley Stadium.

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It was Watford's third victory over Palace last season, all of which were achieved by the same scoreline.

However, the Hornets have never defeated the Eagles in more than three consecutive matches, and seven of the last eight meetings at Vicarage Road have resulted in a draw or victory for the visitors.

View from the dugout

A collective effort will be needed to heave Watford out of their present predicament, with everyone at the club, on and off the pitch, uniting in pursuit of their objective. This is the point Mullins chose to emphasise in his pre-match press conference, as well as the need to settle the nerves of the supporters.

"Palace are a side in form, but we are going to try to start with a high tempo," he said. "We know we need to start fast. If we give the fans something to cheer about then they will be with us, and we need them. We have to try to get positivity throughout the whole stadium, and we need every player pulling in the same direction."

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Meanwhile, the lowly position of the hosts will not deceive Hodgson, who believes another tight and tense encounter is on the horizon here.

"Watford is a tough game for us. It's one of those sort of semi-derbies where there's always a little bit more of an edge to the game. Whenever we play them we're aware that we're in for a tough battle, a tough fight, and I don't the fact that they've changed their manager is going to change much at all."

Team news

Watford may welcome Christian Kabasele and Roberto Pereyra back in the fold after the pair rejoined training over the week.

Club captain Troy Deeney could also earn his first start at Vicarage Road since the opening day of the season after playing nearly 90 minutes at Leicester on Wednesday.

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However, the injury list remains lengthy for the hosts, with Craig Dawson, José Holebas, Daryl Janmaat, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Sebastian Prödl all unavailable.

Meanwhile, Palace's Mamadou Sakho is suspended, and fellow centre-backs Scott Dann and Gary Cahill are also doubts to feature.

Max Meyer, Joel Ward and Patrick van Aanholt are unlikely to be available either.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Sarr, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Deulofeu.

Crystal Palace — Guaita; Kelly, Tomkins, Cahill, Schlupp; Kouyaté, Milivojević, McArthur; Townsend, Ayew, Zaha.

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