Weblog: The football punter

Javi Gracia's Watford can take the spoils

BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Friday

There have been some notable shocks in this season's FA Cup but Watford can avoid adding their name to the top-flight casualties by beating QPR at Loftus Road.

Cash-strapped QPR will view the match as a fantastic opportunity to bring in additional funds.

And they will be encouraged by the example of plenty of EFL clubs competing well against Premier League teams.

Of the 13 top-flight clubs to have exited the competition this season, seven were defeated by Football League outfits.

Five EFL clubs (QPR, Derby, Newport, Bristol City, and Doncaster) take on Premier League teams (Watford, Brighton, Manchester City, Wolves and Crystal Palace) in the fifth round, but all of them are at a disadvantage because they have had to play league matches this week.

QPR lost 2-1 at Bristol City on Tuesday, going down to a controversial injury-time penalty from Famara Diedhiou.

There were plenty of positives for Steve McClaren to take out of a performance which warranted a share of the points, but it was QPR's fifth successive league defeat and leaves than 18th – the lowest they have been since October.

QPR face West Brom at Loftus Road next Tuesday and McClaren may have to consider the busy schedule when selecting his team, although towering striker Matt Smith, scorer of four goals in the last three games, seems likely to lead the attack.

Watford have had a free week to prepare but it is far from certain that Javi Gracia will select a full-strength side.

The Hornets gaffer made 11 changes for their fourth-round tie at Newcastle and will have felt vindicated after his team won 2-0.

Gracia often speaks of the high regard he has for each player in the squad but he needs to balance loyalty to his fringe players with the need to keep his first-choice stars ticking over.

Either way his team should be fresh and full of energy and there will be plenty of match-changing options on the bench.

Since the heady days of Graham Taylor's first spell at the club, Watford have had plenty of ups and downs but they are in good shape now.

Reaching a cup final for the first time since 1984 looks a realistic aim and they are just two points behind Wolves in the race for seventh place.

They have lost just two of their last 13 games – at home to Chelsea and away to Tottenham – and they look a solid wager at a shade of odds-on to extend QPR's losing run.


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Match in Focus


Lazio v Bologna

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Lazio have won four of their last five matches in all competitions
Expert verdict
Lazio won the Coppa Italia last Wednesday after two late goals helped them see off Atalanta in the final and they can win their final league match at home comfortably. Bologna have virtually pulled clear of danger with three wins in their previous four games but they all came at home and their record on the road leaves a lot to be desired. They have won only two of their 18 away league fixtures and lost the reverse 2-1 in October.