Russell Slade guided his City side to a superb away win at Watford on Saturday afternoon. It marked the Bluebirds’ first victory of the season and lifted them to eighth in the Sky Bet Championship – two points off the Play-Off places.
It didn’t take long for the first real chance of the game to come in this one. After an initial solid tackle by Ben Turner brought a throw in level with the edge of David Marshall’s penalty area, Sean Morrison’s clearance found its way to Daniel Tozser on the edge of the area. The midfielder struck well, drawing a good save from Marshall, before Troy Deeney saw his follow up shot cleared off the line by the retreating John Brayford.
Despite the early opportunity, City had most of the ball in the Watford half during the opening ten minutes. Great link up play by Kenwyne Jones saw Craig Noone deliver accurately towards the far post; with Jones getting the attention, Anthony Pilkington was allowed a free header at the back post which drifted just wide of Heurelho Gomes’ far stick.
But in the 12th minute, City deservedly went ahead. A very sharp looking Pilkington delivered a superb ball towards the centre of the penalty area, allowing Jones to rise and head goalwards under challenge from Gomes. Adam Le Fondre was on hand to walk the ball over the line with seemingly an age to do so and although Jones stayed down in the area during the aftermath, he soon returned to see 1-0 City on the scoreboard. It would be Le Fondre’s first competitive goal in Cardiff colours.
GOAL: WATFORD 0-1 CARDIFF CITY (Le Fondre, 12 minutes)
Aside from the early Deeney chance, the first 20 minutes of this one firmly went City’s way. The Watford defence couldn’t deal with the physical presence of Jones, while Noone and Pilkington were causing all sorts of problems down the flanks. An eery silence was palpable around Vicarage Road, with Hornets fans evidently frustrated.
Watford were looking most dangerous on the counter attack and in the 25th minute should have equalised. A superb Deeney ball split the City defence in two, allowing Matej Vydra to turn John Brayford inside the area. Fortunately, the full back did just enough to put the striker off his shot, and by the time he tried to readjust himself, Morrison and Turner were back to see off the threat. A superb opportunity spurned.
This was proving to be an excellent game of football with chances at both ends. Just after the half hour mark, both sides will have felt they could have scored. Matt Connolly put in a superb last ditch tackle to deny Vydra firstly, before good forward play from Le Fondre allowed him a shot at goal which went just wide of Gomes’ near post.
The half played out with little real incident, though the openness of this contest was apparent. Good half-chances continued to present themselves at either end and deep into first half stoppage time, a penalty area melee may have brought a City second. However, the official flagged for offside and the half time whistle sounded.
HALF TIME: WATFORD 0-1 CARDIFF CITY
Watford came firing out of the blocks after the break and had a good opportunity to level things early on. Once again though, David Marshall did very well to deny Deeney, down low, from close range.
Substitution Cardiff City: Matt Connolly replaced by Fabio (52 minutes)
The Hornets were pushing for the equaliser and Scottish winger Ikechi Anya should have found it on 53 minutes. A lovely flick by Deeney freed Anya who raced away from Fabio, the defender having just replaced the injured Matt Connolly. Anya looked composed, though with City’s Brazilian chasing back, the attacker shot into David Marshall’s side netting.
A minute later and Deeney found himself with a free header inside the area, though this time, Marshall saved well from point blank range. Shortly after, Deeney saw another snap shot strike the upright - but City were holding firm.
Substitution Watford: Almen Abdi replaced by Adlen Guedioura (66 minutes)
Substitution Watford: Juan Carlos Paredes replaced by Fernando Forestieri (66 minutes)
Despite immense Watford pressure, City came strongly into things once more with 20 minutes left to play. The irrepressible Anthony Pilkington did superbly well to turn his man and sting the fingers of Gomes with a right-footed effort; unfortunately, not only did the goalkeeper deny City a second, but Pilkington had to be helped off in the aftermath with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Substitution Cardiff City: Anthony Pilkington replaced by Joe Ralls (69 minutes)
Substitution Cardiff City: Aron Gunnarsson replaced by Tom Adeyemi (72 minutes)
City withheld Watford’s barrage of attacking pressure, defending from the front and pressing high up the field thereafter to great effect. Superb anticipation from Joe Ralls almost led to a second for Kenwyne Jones, while good play inside the area saw Le Fondre steal the ball from the nervy Gomes and almost set up Jones – only for good defending to deny him.
Watford became scrappy as they pushed for the equaliser, with midfielder Tozser the most wasteful from good attacking positions. On 86 minutes, his latest wayward effort sparked early exits by a number of home fans and though five minutes of injury time were shown, City held out for a tremendous away win at one of their fellow promotion rivals.
FULL TIME: WATFORD 0-1 CARDIFF CITY
Watford:Gomes, Munari, Angella, Ekstrand, Tozser, Deeney, Paredes, Vydra, Anya, Abdi, Bassong. Subs: Gilmartin, Guedioura, Forestieri, Doyley, Cathcart, Pudil, Dyer.
Cardiff City:Marshall, Connolly, Brayford, S. Morrison, Turner, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Noone, Pilkington, Le Fondre, Jones. Subs: Moore, Fabio, Macheda, Adeyemi, Daehli, Ralls, Maynard.
Att: 15,688 (1,035)