Preston North End manager Alex Neil is expecting a tough test on Saturday, believing that the teams that came down from the Premier League in the summer are the three strongest squads in the division.
The PNE boss spoke to iFollow PNE ahead of the trip to Vicarage Road and said that the Hornets, along with Bournemouth and Norwich would all be among the contenders this season.
“Having seen everyone play, the strongest three squads in the division are the three teams that have come down from the Premier League,” he said.
“Watford will be up there, there are no questions about that. It will be a tough game, but we have had other tough games, like Reading – when they were on a crest of a wave – and we put in a really good performance; we beat Brentford at Brentford – which is a hard place to go and got a point at Norwich.
“The disappointment of the other night and the fact that we have some bodies missing is going to make it more difficult, but that is the challenge that we face.”
He has seen plenty of the Hertfordshire outfit and says his team must be determined in their approach: “They changed their shape [against Bristol City], but, from what I have seen, they are a team that gets back into their shape, they wait for their opponents to make mistakes and then they damage you off the back of it.
“What they have got, is Premier League quality players who can do that, so it is not going to be an easy task. It is going to be very difficult for us, we are going to have to go there and perform really well, but we have to go there with a real determination to get something from the game.”
The loss of around ten players, as a minimum from his 25-man squad leaves the gaffer with no other option than to use ‘square pegs in round holes’ this weekend, as he explains.
“We will have to be creative in what we do. It is a tough challenge, but I will do my best to give the lads a platform to go and show what they can do.
“The work that is needed hasn’t change. We have had the players for each position, but because of the nature of how quickly the games are coming, everything is done on a day to day basis; who is available to train, who might be available for the game and then try and come up with the best solution I can.
“At times, is it the ideal solution? No. But it is what it is and, to be fair to the lads, they have produced some great results in this spell and this is another time when they need to try and dig in and do it again.
“I can assure you, I am not thinking any further than the next game and that has always been the case. There is no opportunity for forward planning at the moment because the dynamics are changing hour on hour, let alone day on day at the moment, but we just need to deal with what is in front of us,” he added.
There is more from Alex on injuries and the potential return of fans in the coming weeks on the video at the top of the page – click now to watch the full preview of the game.
The game is only available on iFollow PNE this weekend, with Jonathan Breeze and Paul Sparrow on commentary duties, with match passes now available for just £10 – click here to sign up now.