Francis' comeback could be on cue to cure Watford's ills

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The Watford midfielder Damien Francis is determined to remain patient as he continues his comeback from long-term injury. The 28-year-old is set for a third straight substitute appearance in this evening's Championship match with Bristol City.

Francis was forced to spend seven months on the sidelines after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury towards the end of Watford's ill-fated Premier League campaign last season. "Being out for a while, it takes time. You can't really predict how long it's going to take," Francis said. "You have to be patient and I have to be patient myself because I have set such high standards. I get frustrated with myself if I'm not as fit as I want to be, but obviously the more I work on it every day the more the sharpness comes back.

"It takes at least five games probably until you're up to a certain level and then obviously game by game you should get fitter." Francis made his comeback in last weekend's 3-2 defeat at Barnsley despite not playing a reserve-team fixture beforehand and he continued his progress in Tuesday night's 2-1 home defeat to Burnley.

His return has coincided with the leaders' poorest run of form this season, yet he said: "It felt really good to be back. It's been a long time coming. I have been out for seven months so to step on to the pitch for the first time after that time was a nice feeling even though at the end of the game I was disappointed that we lost."

Despite recent results, Francis is not expecting to walk back into the first team. He said: "At any successful football club there's always competition for places, so it's welcomed by me to be involved in a football team like that, to have such a strong squad because all it does is bring out the best in you."

The Watford manager, Aidy Boothroyd, must wait on winger Jobi McAnuff before finalising his team for the visit of the Ashton Gate club, who have had a poor run themselves. McAnuff has returned to training after struggling with a thigh strain of late and faces a late fitness test. On-loan wide man Lionel Ainsworth is also vying for the same berth as he awaits a full Watford debut, while Boothroyd is expected to continue with Mart Poom in goal.

Bristol City, who are without a win in five games and goalless in their last four, will be without Jamie McAllister but Cole Skuse will return to the squad.

Defender McAllister must serve a one-match suspension after he was sent off in the goalless draw against Hull in midweek, so Jamie McCombe is likely to be recalled in his absence.

Skuse missed the game at the KC Stadium through concussion but the midfielder is available to face Watford and is likely to start on the bench. Watford risk losing top spot if they fail to win, with West Bromwich Albion now only two points behind and with a vastly superior goal difference.

Tony Mowbray's men travel to Crystal Palace, while third-placed Charlton Athletic host resurgent Burnley. Wolverhampton Wanderers welcome Alan Irvine's struggling Preston North End, and Norwich City, marooned at the bottom, visit Stoke City.