Malky Mackay will enjoy making his second trip to the opposition dugout at Vicarage Road later today, once again returning to the club where he cut his teeth as a manager before making the move to the Welsh capital.
The match is set perfectly, with the Bluebirds and Hornets both racing for the coveted automatic promotion places in the league. Regardless of the 3pm kick-offs, both teams will start the game in first and third place, keeping an eye on the earlier result between Hull City and Middlesbrough, at least from a fan perspective.
Malky still has a lot of time for the Hornets, having also played for the club during its most successful recent years on the field. He is also glad to see Watford doing well under their new owners, though naturally wants his current club to remain above his former employers in just under a month.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a big game and it’s live on television. I’m very fond of the club, it was a big part of my life and I still have friends at the football club. I was privileged to play there and win the Play-Off Final, I was privileged to play in the Premier League and I was privileged to manage the club.
“It’s been well-documented that when I left, I felt the club was heading in a direction in terms of the ownership that I didn’t feel I wanted to be a part of. I think people can finally understand that now that they have seen the league ruling on the previous owner.”
The last time Malky came head to head with his opposite number at Watford Gianfranco Zola, both men were still in the midst of their playing careers. In that FA Cup tie, Zola scored an audacious back-heel for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge against a Norwich City side featuring Cardiff’s current boss, and Mackay remembers the occasion very well.
“We’d played them up at Carrow Road on the Wednesday night before that – I actually swapped strips with Gianfranco that night. I can tell you I was not marking him for that corner! He was a top player. People talk about him as one of the top two or three foreign players to ever play in this country, and from that I think you can gauge what type of player he was. “Watford don’t so much play like him, but they play with his beliefs, and with managers it’s all about belief structures.”
Turning attentions to his own squad, Malky is happy with the mentality of the squad, even at times of adversity. This was well illustrated on Monday with the win over Blackburn following dram a and disappointment at London Road two days prior.
"The mood is good, the boys have been in good spirits this week and it's been nice and calm around the training ground," he said.
"We've got plenty of experience in the dressing room and within the staff who have been involved in promotion pushes before. It's what we feel is the best way of going about our job, making sure we concentrate on the team in front of us and to keep chalking the games off.
“When you’re top of the table for as long as we have been, it means you are debated, you are analysed, you are criticised, and in some cases you’re ignored. All these feelings can come out – it’s just a case of staying calm, having a structure to your week and doing it repeatedly. This consistency over the forty-five-odd weeks of the season is very hard to achieve.
“This weekend would obviously be a really good three points for us, but we’ve just got to make sure that we give whomever we’re playing against a game. Even in defeat this year, I think we’ve been in with a chance of winning every game and it’ll be the same on Saturday. We’ve got a tough game but I think we’ve got a chance of winning it.”
David Marshall kept his fifteenth clean sheet of the season last time out against Blackburn and is now the standalone leader of the Championship’s clean sheet table. Watford have scored more goals than anyone else in the division by a comfortable margin, and Malky felt that would be a key area in deciding the outcome of Saturday evening’s clash.
“We feel that if we can keep a clean sheet, and that is a big ask against Watford, we’ll do well. At the moment Fraizer Campbell is touch-and-go, so we’ll be checking him out. He took a heavy knock to his leg against Blackburn, that’s why he came off. Other than Hudson and Maynard, everyone else is okay.”