Gianfranco Zola has expressed his respect for Mick McCarthy and believes Watford need to be at their best to beat Ipswich Town tonight.

Ipswich were bottom of the Championship when McCarthy was hired in November and whilst they are still only 18th in the table, the Tractor Boys are an improving side.

Tonight will see one of the best attacking teams in the country go up against one of the most improved sides defensively.

Watford's four goals at Birmingham City on Saturday took their tally to the season to 64; making Zola's men the joint highest scorers in the top four divisions, alongside League Two promotion-chasers Port Vale.

And Ipswich have gone from conceding an average of two goals a game prior to McCarthy's arrival, to an outfit who have shipped just eight in their last nine league matches at Portman Road.

"I respect Mick a lot; I’ve come up against him already a few times with West Ham and he’s doing a great job over there, so it will be tough," Zola said.

"Mick has gone there and the situation has improved a lot. It’s a tough game and knowing the manager, I know that Ipswich will make it difficult for us. We can’t afford to not play our best game.

"The next game always has to be your best one, that is the way you can improve and move forward."

The Tractor Boys won the reverse fixture between the two clubs in the second game of this season but history has traditionally been with the Hornets; Watford enjoyed an unbelievable 15-match unbeaten run against Ipswich prior to the August defeat and the Golden Boys are unbeaten in their last seven visits to Portman Road.

Watford also have an excellent away record this season; no other Championship side have won nine games on the road this season.

Zola admitted: "It makes your life much better if you can perform away from home like we are but I know the nature of the Championship. Therefore I’m expectant of the players because if they don’t perform like they can, then it will be very costly."

Click here to read team news ahead of tonight's match.