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Hornets deservedly deny former manager Malky Mackay's Cardiff City a win
Watford deservedly extended their unbeaten away run to a fifth match as a fine second-half finish from Nyron Nosworthy secured a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City to continue the disappointing run of results at home for Malky Mackay’s men.
Kenny Miller’s header in first-half injury time from a cross by former Hornets player Don Cowie put the Bluebirds on track for their first league success at the Cardiff City Stadium in six outings.
However, after Martin Taylor and Troy Deeney, twice, had failed to convert good opportunities to equalise, the Hornets got their reward when Nosworthy improvised superbly to flick home a Sean Murray free-kick to leave the hosts frustrated by a fifth straight home draw.
That said, it did take two fine saves from Tomasz Kuszczak to prevent the side managed by Watford’s last boss from doubling their lead when he thwarted Miller and Aron Gunnarsson.
The point did not improve the Hornets’ league position but it moved them to within a win of equalling last season’s points tally under Mackay.
Following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at home to Blackpool, Sean Dyche decided to make two changes and also altered the shape of his team.
Prince Buaben returned to what was a three-man central midfield unit, with Britt Assombalonga making his first senior away start on the right in support of lone striker Deeney. Chris Iwelumo dropped to the bench, Mark Yeates was left out of the matchday squad but there was a rare substitute berth this season for Matty Whichelow.
Unlike their opponents, the Bluebirds had the better of a 2-0 result last time out, winning at Middlesbrough to move back into the top six. But like his former number two, Mackay also made two changes.
Both were on the right, with Kevin McNaughton returning at right-back and Craig Conway playing directly ahead of him in a starting XI that featured Hornets old boy Cowie and former Vicarage Road loanee Andrew Taylor. Liam Lawrence and Darcy Blake dropped to the bench.
It was apparent straight from the kick off that the Hornets were lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation but it was the hosts who had most of the early possession, winning two corners inside the opening five minutes. From the second of these, Ben Turner had a decent heading opportunity at the far post but put it wide of Kuszczak’s right-hand upright.
Another half chance came Cardiff’s way in the ninth minute when, after Martin Taylor had partially cut out McNaughton’s low ball in from the right, Conway connected superbly with an angled right-footed drive from 25 yards that fizzed wide of the far post.
The Hornets dealt with those early questions though, and had their first semblance of an opening in the 18th minute when good anticipation by Jonathan Hogg saw him nick the ball away from an opponent and release Murray and his low cross from the left found Buaben, whose side-footed effort from 16 yards was blocked.
Assombalonga had every reason to feel aggrieved after being booked in the 24th minute for getting the better of a 50-50 challenge on Miller, with play continuing for several seconds before referee Darren Deadman belatedly decided to act. However, the signs were becoming increasingly promising as the first half wore on for the Hornets, whose pressing was denying the hosts time and space and forcing them into a number of careless passes.
Unlike his team-mate, Hogg couldn’t really complain when he saw yellow in the 33rd minute for a mistimed sliding lunge on Conway – and it was a foul that was to ultimately end the midfielder’s game and four minutes later he was replaced by Lawrence.
The Hornets though, continued to have the better of it, with a nice spell in and around the edge of the Cardiff box ending with a Carl Dickinson shot that was deflected over.
Turner picked up the Bluebirds’ first booking a minute before the break for a blatant shove on Buaben as the Ghanaian sought to break through and then a Hornets throw from the left was flicked on by Martin Taylor and John Eustace slid in to side foot an effort on target, but David Marshall was able to save easily.
But all of the Hornets’ good first-half work was undone during the first minute of injury time when the hosts took the lead, although the goal had a degree of fortune to it.
A routine long ball forward shouldn’t have posed any danger and Cowie didn’t seem to know much about it when the ball struck him on the backside, but it broke nicely and the Scot gained some space before drifting in a superb cross from the right and Miller had got clear to send a classic striker’s header across Kuszczak and into the far corner to make it 1-0 at the break.
Despite trying his best, Assombalonga had struggled to make much of an impact in the first period and he was replaced at the resumption by Joe Garner.
Murray had the first attempt after the restart with a speculative effort from distance that flew well over but the Hornets needed Kuszczak to be at his absolute best to prevent them going two down in the 51st minute.
Following an Gunnarsson throw from the right, Hogg did well to nick the ball off Cowie but only succeeded in finding Lawrence. He clipped the ball into the middle where Miller sent a sharp header inside Kuszczak’s left-hand post, only to see the on-loan Manchester United stopper get down to superbly tip it onto the post.
Mackay made his second change in the 56th minute, with Filip Kiss replacing Stephen McPhail, and the substitute arrived to see the Hornets twice go close to equalising in quick succession.
Murray was already preparing to take a corner when the change was made and when the youngster did get the chance to take the set piece from the left, an unmarked Martin Taylor met it at the far post with a header that Marshall tipped over. Then, from Murray’s next corner from the opposite side, Deeney got in a header that was cleared off the line.
Watford were well on top at this point and continued to apply the pressure, with Dickinson seeing a shot deflected off target, Hogg having a well-struck effort from the edge of the box blocked and Eustace also firing over from 18 yards out.
Another excellent chance came and went for the visitors in the 66th minute when Garner, who had done well since coming on, got free on the right and played in a low cross that the sliding Deeney met, only to lift a clear close-range effort over the top.
As is so often the case though when a team doesn’t take its chances, Watford were nearly made to pay soon after when Miller’s ball in from the right was met by a deft Gunnarsson header that Kuszczak did well to tip over.
The card count was levelled up in the 69th minute when Marshall, who had been warned in the first half for taking too long over his restarts, was booked for time wasting.
That started a ridiculous flurry of four yellow cards in five minutes, with Nosworthy, Kiss and Doyley all going into the book. But in between times, the Hornets survived a big let off when Cowie lifted the ball into the six-yard box and Mark Hudson had a free header, but mistimed his connection and somehow put it wide.
Buaben made way for Iwelumo with 12 minutes of normal time remaining, while Mackay had to replace a substitute as Robert Earnshaw came on for the injured Lawrence.
But Watford got what they thoroughly deserved with eight minutes remaining when Iwelumo was clearly pushed in the back around 30 yards from goal to the right of centre. Murray clipped in a measured free-kick towards the far post and Nosworthy got free to impressively send a back-heeled flick across Marshall to make it 1-1.
Kuszczak did have to grab an Earnshaw shot at the second attempt soon after equaliser but that chance apart, neither side really threatened a winner despite five minutes of injury time being played.
Cardiff City: Marshall; McNaughton, Hudson, Turner, A Taylor; McPhail (Kiss 56); Conway (Lawrence 38, Earnshaw 78)), Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Cowie; Miller. Not used: Heaton and Blake.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Nosworthy, M Taylor, Dickinson; Eustace, Hogg; Assombalonga (Garner 46), Buaben (Iwelumo 78), Murray; Deeney. Not used: Loach, Bennett and Whichelow.
Bookings: Assombalonga for a foul on Miller (24); Hogg for a foul on Conway (33); Turner for a foul on Buaben (45); Marshall for time wasting (69); Nosworthy for a foul on Gunnarsson (71); Kiss for a foul on Buaben (72); Doyley for a foul on Gunnarsson (74).
Referee: Darren Deadman.