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Nine-man Watford suffer 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City thanks to injury-time goal by Aron Gunnarsson
Watford suffered an agonising 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City as Aron Gunnarsson’s injury-time header meant the Hornets’ gutsy display when down to nine men counted for nothing.
The Hornets played well during the contest and went into the break ahead when Tommie Hoban, who was handed his professional debut by Cardiff boss Malky Mackay, bundled home from a corner.
The second half, and ultimately the result, was heavily influenced by the two red cards given to Watford players Daniel Pudil and Nathaniel Chalobah.
Pudil was first to be dismissed when he was adjudged to have slapped Craig Noone in the face in an off-the-ball incident just after the hour mark.
Cardiff were then awarded a harsh penalty when a powerful strike from Noone hit the arm of Jonathan Hogg from point-blank range, with Peter Whittingham converting the spot kick.
A minute later and Watford were down to nine men as Nathaniel Chalobah received a second yellow card for kicking the ball away.
The Welsh side had a series of half chances but Watford had very good opportunities of their own before Gunnarsson headed in the winner in the first minute of injury time. Watford were facing a side who have now won all six of their home games this season and not lost a league game at Cardiff City Stadium since March.
The Hornets away form has been good this season and they were hoping to secure their fourth win in five matches.
Watford made three changes to the team which started against Peterborough United on Saturday; with Mark Yeates, Matej Vydra and Alex Geijo coming in for Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri and Troy Deeney.
Cardiff, whose coaching staff and playing squad has significant links with the Hornets, also made three alterations. Ben Turner replaced Kevin McNaughton, Craig Bellamy was in for Craig Conway and Aron Gunnarsson made way for Craig Noone.
There was nothing of note to report in the opening ten minutes and when the first opportunity did arise, former Hornet Tommy Smith’s volley from 18 yards was straight at Manuel Almunia.
Cardiff did have a penalty appeal turned down soon after as Marco Cassetti may have nudged Bellamy over in the box as the pair chased Peter Whittingham’s through ball.
The home side had edged it in terms of possession but it was Watford who went close to taking the lead when Geijo won possession deep into Cardiff’s half and slipped in Vydra. The forward’s touch allowed Mark Hudson to make a recovery challenge and the deflected shot was tipped wide by David Marshall.
Watford did go ahead midway through the half though when Cassetti headed goalwards from Yeates’ corner and Hoban bundled the ball home from close range.
Just as the chants of ‘Malky, what’s the score?’ could be heard from the away end, Cardiff almost equalised as a few former Hornets linked up. Smith picked out the run of Helguson and Cowie, who beat the offside trap but could only volley into the side-netting from eight yards out.
Smith was one of the Bluebirds’ biggest threats and Manuel Almunia needed two attempts to gather his cross after the wideman beat two defenders to reach the byline.
It was a balanced contest and Watford were finding space in dangerous areas. Turner did well to block Vydra’s effort from 20 yards.
The home crowd felt they were on the wrong side of a couple of offside decisions. In one instance Bellamy was through one-on-one but Almunia saved his poke at goal regardless.
When Bellamy finally did beat the offside trap wide on the right, he wasted his low cross and gave those in the box no hope of reaching his delivery.
Watford were counter-attacking well and Turner again needed to make a last-ditch block as Hogg struck from 18 yards out. The resulting corner saw Pudil smash his volley comfortably over the bar.
Cardiff enjoyed more possession than their opponents early into the second half but a tame Noone effort, which went over the bar, was all they had to show for the opening ten minutes of the half.
For all of Cardiff’s possession, however, it was Watford who went extremely close to extending their lead – twice in quick succession. The Hornets broke with pace and Geijo created enough space 20 yards from goal to shoot and force Marshall into a good stop. The resulting corner wasn’t cleared and Hall turned inside the box and hit the crossbar with his shot.
The home side quickly found themselves up the other end and Almunia needed to tip Noone’s header over the bar.
The dynamics of the game changed when Pudil was adjudged to have struck Noone in the face after the pair clashed following an aerial challenge and the Czech Republic international was given a straight red card.
Cardiff laid siege on Watford’s goal and created a host of half chances, but Watford still created a few good opportunities of their own.
Helguson headed wide from close range, Smith had a goal-bound shot blocked and there were countless number of wayward crosses sent into the box.
Cardiff finally grabbed the equaliser when Noone cut into the box and struck a powerful shot which was heading goalwards before it struck the arm of Hogg, which did not move as he went to block the shot from point-blank range. Whittingham smashed the penalty straight down the middle of the goal.
A minute later and Watford’s task was made even harder when Chalobah was given a second yellow card, for what referee Mark Haywood adjudged to be kicking the ball away.
Helguson had the ball in the net soon after Chalobah’s dismissal, but the whistle had already gone.
Watford didn’t just settle for a draw though and did look to counter-attack when possible. Substitute Ikechi Anya ran half the length of the pitch before he crossed for Deeney, who headed over the bar.
But Cardiff were certainly the team in the ascendency as the clock ran down. Almunia saved well from Whittingham’s free kick, Matt Connolly stabbed over the bar from close range, Smith had a tame effort saved and Cowie dragged wide after a goalmouth scramble.
There was wave after wave of Cardiff attacks but the Hornets were not content just to sit back and defend their lead, they still looked for a winner.
They could have scored when slick play and a bit of fortune resulted in Yeates being free eight yards from goal. He ignored Doyley in the middle of the box to try his luck from the tight angle and Marshall saved.
But it was Cardiff who grabbed the winner in the first minute of injury time as Noone picked out Gunnarsson and he headed powerfully past Almunia into the bottom corner.
That wasn’t the end of the drama though and Watford searched for an equaliser despite being down to nine men.
One period of Watford pressure almost resulted in Noone scoring after the visitors threw everyone forward, with the winger shooting wide.
There was to be one last chance for the Hornets deep into injury time when Anya picked out Hogg unmarked in the box but the midfielder’s half volley went comfortably over.
Cardiff: Marshall; Connolly, Turner (Gestede 74), Hudson, Taylor; Noone, Cowie, Whittingham, Smith (Gunnarsson 85); Helguson, Bellamy (Mason HT).
Subs: Lewis, McNaughton, Conway, Kim.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Hall, Hoban; Cassetti (Thompson 71), Chalobah, Hogg, Yeates, Pudil; Vydra (Anya 61), Geijo (Deeney 74).
Subs: Bond, Abdi, Forestieri, Murray.
Referee: Mark Haywood.