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Loan star Joel gets Hornets buzzing

26 January 2013

By Tony Leighton

Fears among Watford supporters that a plethora of loan signings would hamper the progress of Gianfranco Zola's team this season have been allayed with the Hornets continuing to impress in the npower Championship.

One of those loanees in particular, Joel Ekstrand, is proving an invaluable addition to the Vicarage Road ranks. The early November introduction to the side of the Swedish defender, one of six players on loan from Italian club Udinese, coincided with the tremendous run that has got the Hornets buzzing.

Ekstrand has played a key role as Zola's team collected 30 points in a 14-match sequence that has lifted them to sixth in the table.

And if they beat Nottingham Forest on Saturday then win at Bristol City on Tuesday - in the game in hand that they have on all of the teams around them - they will be pressing hard on the automatic promotion places.

It's no wonder that Sweden international Ekstrand, who played in his native country for Lunds and Helsingborgs before joining Udinese in 2011, is delighted to be at Vicarage Road and helping to mount a bid to reach the Premier League.

The 23-year-old defender, who twice faced Arsenal in Champions League action for his Italian club, told "I'm really enjoying my time here.

"At the start of the season Udinese felt that it was best for me to join Watford and get some playing time and I was happy to get the opportunity - I was excited.

"Early on I had problems with illness and an annoying injury, but it didn't take me long to adjust to the English game. I've played most of my life in Sweden and the style is similar, although it's a bit more physical in England - and it's also more open and faster than in the Italian game.

"I was one of a lot of new players who came to the club around the start of the season, and with the different cultures and languages involved it took time for us all to get to know one another and the way we all played. But we all know each other's game well now and everybody feels involved.

"When I got my chance in the team I took it and it's been great to be part of what we've achieved in the last couple of months. Hopefully now we can keep pushing on and keep ourselves around the top end of the table."

Ekstrand is understandably feeling confident as he prepares to visit Nottingham Forest's City Ground on Saturday after helping the Hornets to a 2-0 win against the same opponents at Vicarage Road only a month ago.

"Forest are a strong team with good players," he said, "but if we take our qualities into the game and play as well as we did for most of the 90 minutes in the last game against them, then we can win again."

The Swede is also bullish about his team's prospects for the rest of the campaign. "There are lots of games to go," he added, "but we can definitely finish top six."

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