What he did not have in mind was the example set by Malky Mackay, a 33-year-old veteran of more than 300 League appearances. Sheffield United, having trailed 2-0, had just equalised when Mackay lashed out at Rob Kozluk after 67 minutes as the two players jostled before a free-kick and the former Norwich City defender was sent off.
The inevitable United winner came after 81 minutes, though it was cruel on the excellent Clarke Carlisle, who put through his own net after the ball had bounced around the Watford penalty area like a pinball.
"There are defining moments in games and we didn't react well to some of them today," Boothroyd said after the match. "It was a massive lesson for us."
It was a disappointing end for Boothroyd's young tiros. Anthony McNamee and Ashley Young showed plenty of pleasing touches in the Watford attack, while Darius Henderson was alert enough to score twice either side of the interval by capitalising on indecision in the visiting defence.
Neil Warnock, the United manager, described the second, when Henderson pounced after David Unsworth and Leigh Bromby left a bouncing ball to each other, as a goal which "any Sunday league team would have been disappointed to concede".
However, Warnock was delighted with his team's responseto consolidate their position at the top of the Championship. Level within 13 minutes through Phil Jagielka's fine header and Paul Ifill's powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area, United's experience proved crucial in the frantic finale.
Watford stay in third place and Boothroyd remained upbeat. "What's really pleasing for me is that we're sitting where we are despite not playing particularly well for a whole game yet," he said.
Goals: Henderson (39) 1-0; Henderson (53) 2-0; Jagielka (56) 2-1; Ifill (66) 2-2; Carlisle (81, og) 2-3.
Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Doyley, Carlisle, Mackay, Stewart; Devlin (Blizzard, 74), Spring, Fletcher, McNamee (Chambers, 58); Young, King (Henderson, 17). Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Bangura.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Bromby, Morgan, Unsworth; Ifill, Jagielka, Montgomery, Quinn (Gillespie, 77); Shipperley (Webber, 56), Kabba (Nalis, 90). Substitutes not used: Geary, Tonge.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).
Booked: Watford Henderson, Carlisle; Sheffield United Kozluk, Bromby. Sent off: Watford Mackay.
Man of the match: Carlisle.
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