Just when Watford believed they had survived their recent wobble, the legs went and turned to jelly again. Only an equaliser deep into injury time spared them a defeat that would have been as deserved for Cardiff as it would have been ominous for the stumbling Championship pacesetters.
Jobi McAnuff was the hero of Vicarage Road, grabbing the point with a nerveless finish, although, interestingly, the little midfielder was not the principal villain to his former Welsh club. That role belonged to the referee, Ian Bentley, who decided to add five minutes on to the clock when the board had said three.
That Bentley was a first-half replacement for the injured Grant Hegley, and does not regularly officiate at this level, was only further grist to the mill of a furious Dave Jones. "It's disappointing because this is an important game and we've been let down by the referee," said the Cardiff manager. "Three minutes of stoppage time were indicated but the lad's scored in something like the fourth minute. So I don't know what's happened there."
Jones' anger was understandable, if only for the complete domination Cardiff enjoyed in the first half. They went in with the advantage courtesy of a powerful Roger Johnson header from a Joe Ledley corner in the 34th minute, but, in truth, the deficit could have been three, four times as great.
Inevitably, the Hornets came out fired up and within three minutes were on terms thanks to their captain, Jay DeMerit, scrappily applying the necessaries to a Nathan Ellington knock-down in the six-yard box. From there, one might have expected Watford to take control; rather it was Cardiff who reasserted.
In the 56th minute Whittingham's low left-foot drive beat Richard Lee, and the visitors' first win at Watford in 37 years seemed certain when Kasper Schmeichel produced a wonder save off Tommy Smith in the 93rd minute. But from the resulting corner, with the Cardiff players looking to Bentley for the whistle, McAnuff arrived in the corner of the area to curl in a sumptuous right-footer.
"That goal was worthy of a point," said a relieved manager, Aidy Boothroyd. Indeed, it was. If only the same could be said of the performance. It is now more than two months since Watford have won at home and they have collected just eight points in their last eight games. An instant return to the Premiership still appears so far away.
Goals: Johnson (34) 0-1; DeMerit (49) 1-1; Whittingham (56) 1-2; McAnuff (90) 2-2.
Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, DeMerit, Jackson (Shittu, 85), Stewart; Smith, O'Toole (Williamson, 35), Francis, McAnuff; King (Henderson, 63), Ellington. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Ainsworth.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; McNaughton, Loovens, Johnson, Capaldi; Whittingham, McPhail, Rae, Ledley; MacLean (Purse, 86), Parry. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Blake, Ramsey, Hasselbaink.
Referee: G Hegley (Hertfordshire).
Man of the match: Ledley.
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