Watford did eventually claim the three points to close to within seven points of Sheffield United in the second automatic promotion spot, but will wonder quite how they were left to rely on an 87th-minute winner to finish off a Cardiff side they outplayed from start to finish.
This was creating a drama out of a cakewalk, and in the end Watford were grateful to Ricardo Scimeca for the dire backpass that allowed Marlon King in for his 17th goal of the season. "He's apologised and he's frustrated, but there's no blame attached. It's one of those things that happen in football," said the Cardiff manager, Dave Jones, of Scimeca's error. His mood perhaps was softened by the knowledge that had his side got a point, it would have rivalled the £50 million Tonbridge heist as the robbery of the week.
Playing with the wind in the first half, Watford were barely out of Cardiff's box. Malky Mackay hit the bar and had an effort cleared off the line, and Neil Alexander made two superb reflex saves. "You have to score in your good periods," said the Watford manager, Adrian Boothroyd, but his side didn't and took the lead only in the 69th minute.
It was Mackay who got it, rising unmarked at the back post to steer Hameur Bouazza's cross past Alexander. For the Scottish centre-back, who turned 34 last week and celebrated the birth of his second child earlier this month, it was just reward for a tireless performance. Having gone up with West Ham and Norwich, he is now looking at a third successive promotion. "There's something about winning," said Boothroyd. "It's not luck. There are ingredients that go into that, and he's definitely a winner."
Even with the lead, Watford could not relax and Jeff Whitley equalised eight minutes later, seizing on Jason Koumas's long pass, holding off Jay DeMerit and drilling his finish low into the corner. "It was a difficult game not just because of the opposition, but because of the wind," said Boothroyd. "And there's expectation now. I heard one or two murmurings behind us at 1-1, which is ridiculous when you think where we were."
King's goal brought the scoreline back in line with the balance of the game, but Watford still had to endure a nervy injury time, as Koumas smacked a free-kick against the post.Reuse content