Charles McQuillan

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Stoke manager Michael O’Neill

Charles McQuillan

Free football tips, best bets and analysis for Stoke City v Watford in the championship on Friday

Where to see

Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football, Friday, 7.45pm

Best bid

Watford doesn’t make a bet
2 points 4-6 coral

Team news

Stir up
Tyrese Campbell (knee) and Lee Gregory (groin) are left out and Ryan Shawcross (Covid-19) is self-isolating.

Ben Foster (broken finger) is out and Tom Dele-Bashiru and Isaac Success are long-term absent.

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Game preview

Poor away results have slowed Watford’s rise to the championship, but the Hornets can take a big step forward by beating Stoke, who are chasing the playoffs.

With just four points separating runner-up Swansea from Bournemouth in sixth place, things tend to be tight at the top of the second row. Fourth-placed Watford is in a reasonable position despite having only two wins in 11 away games.

Of the Hornets’ 43 points, 32 were accumulated in Hertfordshire and without a significant improvement in their away record it will be difficult for them to land on the automatic promotion spots.

The inequality between home and away results has continued under Xisco Munoz, who has recorded three victories at Vicarage Road and two away defeats since taking office in December.

However, Munoz has an immediate opportunity to change the dynamics as Watford play two away games at Stoke and Millwall over the next five days.

Stoke has spent much of the season pushing their way into the top 6 but they are held back with too many draws, ten in 25 games.

The final game – a 3-3 at Rotherham on Tuesday – left them five points outside the playoffs and the Potters had a tough time with three of their next four games up against top six teams.

Stoke has had some positive news on the injury front lately. Influential midfielder Joe Allen and center-forward Steven Fletcher made a full recovery after layoffs, but without six-goal forward Tyrese Campbell, who sustained a long-term knee injury, they are still not offensive in December.

In Campbell’s absence, they have only won one game in ten, scoring seven goals.

Aware of the need to excel, manager Michael O’Neill has hired a few loan winners – Jack Clarke from Tottenham and Rabbi Matondo from Schalke.

However, Stoke’s pursuit of additional attack flair could cause them to lose solidity, as was the case with the six-goal thriller in Rotherham.

It may take some time for O’Neill to strike the right balance with his new team and Stoke’s transition could play into the hands of Watford, who has the second best defensive record in the division with 17 goals conceded in 24 games.

The Hornets are the lowest scorers in the top eight with 28 goals and don’t seem to have a prolific scorer. Center-forward Troy Deeney and Andre Gray struggle to be effective in open play.

But Munoz’s side were comfortable 1-0 winners at home against Barnsley on Tuesday. Midfielder Will Hughes and winger Ismaila Sarr performed superbly and they likely look winners in the Potteries.

Key stat

Stoke have not scored more than one goal in their last seven home games.

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