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Mar 19, 2016 at 3pm UK at Vicarage Road
Watford
1-2
StokeStoke City
Deeney (85')
FT(HT: 0-1)
Walters (17'), Joselu (51')

Preview: Watford vs. Stoke City

Sports Mole previews the Premier League encounter at Vicarage Road between Watford and Stoke City.

Watford play host to Stoke City on Saturday afternoon knowing that they can move to within three points of the Potters in the Premier League table with a win at Vicarage Road.

Stoke make the trip to the Hornets having slipped down to ninth in the standings, but Mark Hughes is aware that three points on their travels will move the club back into contention for a Europa League spot.


Watford

Quique Flores gives instructions during the FA Cup game between Arsenal and Watford on March 13, 2016© Getty Images

Before the season began, Watford would have considered Premier League survival and a decent cup run as a hugely successful campaign, but Quique Flores faces the job of trying to achieve much more than that in the closing two months.

With the club sitting 12 points clear of the relegation zone with just nine games left, the Hornets are almost assured of a spot in the top flight next year, and priority will now be placed on securing a place in the FA Cup final for the first time in 32 years.

Given their form in the league, Watford were underdogs when they took to the pitch against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last weekend, but they surprised many with an excellent showing in North London as Odion Ighalo and Adlene Guedioura earned the club a famous win.

With Crystal Palace awaiting them in the last four of the competition, attention will naturally be placed on that fixture, and Flores faces the task of ensuring that his players are not distracted from their league commitments, despite a large margin separating them from 18th-placed Norwich City.

With Arsenal and Liverpool the only remaining big-hitters during the run-in, Watford should have no problem in getting another couple of victories on the board but Flores will feel easier once they hit the 40-point mark, which can be achieved this weekend.

One issue Watford and Flores must overcome is their lack of goals in the Premier League. They have failed to score in five of their last six contests, while club captain Troy Deeney has only scored in one match in his last dozen outings.

Recent form: DLWDLL
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLLW


Stoke City

Mark Hughes watches on during the Premier League game between Chelsea and Stoke City on March 5, 2016© Getty Images

With the competition so fierce for a top-six spot, Stoke City could not afford any slip-ups when they hosted Southampton last weekend, but two goals from Graziano Pelle condemned the club to a disappointing defeat at the Britannia Stadium.

It has resulted in the club dropping down towards mid-table, with Southampton stealing a march on them in the race for qualification for the Europa League, but Stoke are still in a position where they can dictate their own future.

Liverpool and West Ham United are still to come before the end of the campaign, but Hughes is aware that his team must prevail in matches such as the one on Saturday if they are going to remain in contention.

One positive to come from the setback against the Saints was the pressure that they enforced in the second half. On another day, they would have come away with at least a point, but it did highlight the struggles that Hughes has had with his strikers.

If Marko Arnautovic does not get on the scoresheet or Xherdan Shaqiri is unavailable, the Potters find goals difficult to come by, and they need to improve in the final third to match the effort that is going on at the back.

Before last weekend, Stoke had coped admirably with the fitness issues that they have had in defence, and if they can find a solution in attack, there is no reason why they cannot sneak into the top six before the end of the season.

Recent form: LWWWDL


Team News

Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park on October 31, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. © Getty Images

Club captain Ryan Shawcross is absent through injury, while Hughes has also ruled out winger Shaqiri for at least another 10 days.

Erik Pieters has not taken part in training throughout the week, but the Dutchman could still feature at the weekend.

Ighalo is a fitness doubt for Watford as he continues to recover from a muscle problem, but Flores has indicated that he will leave it to the last possible moment before making a decision.

Miguel Britos may miss out with a calf problem, but Jose Manuel Jurado could feature after returning to the squad last weekend.

Watford possible starting lineup:
Gomes, Nyom, Prodl, Cathcart, Ake, Watson, Behrami; Capoue, Guedioura, Deeney, Ighalo

Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Butland, Cameron, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters, Whelan, Imbula, Bojan, Afellay, Arnautovic, Diouf


Head To Head

Saturday's fixture will represent the 32nd time that the two clubs have met in a competitive fixture, with Watford previously emerging victorious on 14 occasions compared to 11 wins for Stoke.

However, Watford hold a dominant record over the Staffordshire outfit in recent meetings, with four wins and two draws being recorded since April 2005.

In the reverse fixture earlier this season, Watford ran out convincing 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Deeney and Almen Abdi.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Watford 1-1 Stoke City

Watford head into the match on a high after their progress in the FA Cup, but it could be a case of after the Lord Mayor's show. Stoke also need to respond after losing to Southampton, and that could result in a stalemate being played out at Vicarage Road.



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Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke City during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Leicester City on September 19, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, United Kingdom.
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ROWING
· Team GB have dominated the men's coxless fours in recent Olympics, winning on each of the last five occasions, but this year they face some stiff competition. They are one of four rowing medal contenders for Great Britain today (2.10am)

SWIMMING
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ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS
· Joe Fraser and James Hall compete for Team GB in the men's all-around final (11.15am-2.10pm)

CYCLING
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