Pearce praises Thatcher's professionalism
Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce believes the return of bad-boy Ben Thatcher has been one of the major factors behind the Blues' recent revival.
Thatcher was forced to serve an eight-match ban earlier in the campaign for a disgraceful assault on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes which enraged Harry Redknapp so much he called for the former Wales full-back to be drummed out of the game altogether.
Although the Football Association were never going to hit the 31-year-old with such a draconian punishment, there were many who felt Thatcher had played his last game for City.
Instead, the former Tottenham man got his head down in training, kept himself fit and, as Pearce's side struggled for consistency, returned to senior action in the win over Middlesbrough at the end of October.
He has retained his place ever since, contributing to a run which has seen the Eastlands outfit pick up 10 points from their last six matches, and will see them close to within a three points of third-placed Arsenal if they overcome relegation-threatened Watford on home soil this evening.
'I have been really impressed with Ben Thatcher,' admitted Pearce. 'It was always going to be extremely difficult for him being out of the side for that length of time.
'He had to try and keep himself fit and focused but he also knew that when he returned from his suspension, the outside world would be waiting for him to slip up.
'Everyone within the club wants Ben to do extremely well because of the type of man he is. His performances have been fantastic and he really has given the team a big lift.'
Because Thatcher was shown a yellow card rather than a red for the Mendes incident, he is now one caution away from an automatic suspension for five bookings.
Not that he is likely to alter his robust style, which he has retained while managing to keep his challenges within the boundaries of acceptability.
Beating Watford would not only move City above Fulham into the top half of the table, it would also represent something of a milestone in bringing Pearce's men their first back-to-back Premiership triumphs in 14 months.
Not that the Blues manager is expecting an easy time, even though the Hornets are now adrift with Charlton at the foot of the table.
'I have seen Watford play more than any other team in the Premiership,' he said.
'They have not been overwhelmed in any game this season. They are a dogged side and if anyone thinks they are going to have an easy game against them they will be sadly mistaken.'