Date:Tuesday April 25 2006
'The playoffs are upon us. With Saturday’s final set of fixtures all but academic Ben Cullen assesses the merits of Watford, Leeds United and Preston. First up in this three part feature is a look at the team from Vicarage Road.'
Now that we know the four teams that will be taking part in the Championship playoffs the obvious question is what is the best draw for the Eagles? Previous results suggest Watford, over whom Palace did the double, but they are also the best team of the four according to the league table, which famously “never lies”. Conversely this logic implies that playing Preston would be the Eagle’s worse case scenario as Palace played them four times this season in the Championship and FA Cup but didn’t manage to beat them once. So what are the strengths and weaknesses of the playoff teams and which is the team to avoid?
P 45 W 22 D 14 L 9 Pts 80
Top Scorer: Marlon King 21
Form: WWDDLL (8pts)
Watford are the most attacking team in the playoffs having scored 75, ten more than the next highest scorers, Palace. The Hornet’s goals have come from a number of sources with King’s strike partner, Darius Henderson and 20 year old midfielder Ashley Young both having scored over ten goals in the league. Manchester United loanee Chris Eagles scored from the half-way line against Brighton this season and ex-Leeds man, Matt Spring has scored eight from central midfield.
Defensively, however, Watford are weaker and have conceded 54 in the league, more than any of the other playoff candidates. Whilst this may be down more to their style of play than a serious lack of quality at the back it will be vital that Watford’s strikers perform to carry them through. With King coming back from a two game suspension for their final regular season game against QPR the team should be firing on all cylinders coming into the playoffs. The only concern for Watford fans may be their poor form over the last six games as Bothroyd has taken the chance to rest a few of their key players once they could no longer hope to catch Sheffield United. Although wins against Ipswich and Hull have addressed this somewhat.
Many still regard Watford as outclassed by the other playoff teams and they haven’t beaten any of them this season despite thrashing Sheffield United 4-1 during a purple patch over January/February time. Watford’s combination of poor form and slightly porous defence make them my first choice for Palace to face in the semi-finals. Their lack of experience on the big stage should also count against them. Watch out though, if the match becomes a goal-fest Watford could be hard to out score.
This article was written by Ben Cullen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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