Three second-half goals earned Watford Under-21s only their second Professional Development League South win of the season this afternoon away at Cardiff City, as the recent good form of the club’s Academy players continued.

The 3-0 success was the first time this season the Under-21’s have kept a clean sheet, but as Academy Director Richard Johnson pointed out in an interview with The Watford Observer last week, it’s a young group of players up against opposition that has more senior experience and yet they are learning all the time.

Add to that the crop of new Under-21 players signed a couple of weeks ago who have been playing in non-league football, and the team now looks stronger and more equipped to deal with the division.

This win, which the Under-21s fully deserved, followed hot on the heels of the FA Youth Cup victory over Everton, success in the Herts Senior Cup and at a time when the likes of Tobi Adeyemo, Jack Grieves and Michael Adu-Poku have all made Championship debuts.

Playing in bright sunshine at the Cardiff International Sports Stadium in Leckwith – a venue any fans who went to the Cardiff City Stadium earlier in the season may have seen as it is literally across the road – Watford started three of their new signings.

Up front, both Ezio Touray (ex-Basingstoke Town) and James Collins (ex-Hertford Town) showed a willingness to press and were comfortable taking the ball to feet with their back to goal.

Touray looked particularly strong and combative, while Collins netted the Hornets' third goal with a calm and classy finish.

Winger Dawid Hamiga (ex-Beaconsfield Town) showed some nice touches and was always keen to take his defender on. He linked up well with full-back Ryan Andrews – who made his senior debut in the FA Cup tie at Reading recently – and that threat down the flank forced Cardiff into a change in defence at half-time.

As he did in the second half at the Madejski, Andrews looked confident marauding forward but was equally able to get back and defend strongly.

The first half was short on chances but Watford had easily the best of them on the half-hour mark.

Hamiga played the ball down the line, Touray got a touch to divert it centrally and Collins raced clear of the home defence. He sat the keeper down with a great piece of footwork but had to slow down to do so, and as he seemed set to roll the ball into the empty net Cardiff skipper Xavier Benjamin did well to get back and tackle.

Cardiff – who sit third in the table - created very little in the first 45 minutes, and that was due in no small part to another impressive outing from central defensive pairing George Abbott and Josh Mullins.

The duo caught the eye in the Youth Cup win over Everton, and again today they showed a good understanding and commanded the defensive third.

As Abbott only turned 18 on Monday and Mullins is 17 until November, pitching them into the senior team may be a step too far. However, that hasn’t held back the likes of Adeyemo – if you’re good enough you’re old enough is the adage - and it’s an encouraging sign that the Hornets appear to have two potentially very useful central defenders working their way through.

City offered more in the second half and Alfie Marriott had to make a smart stop four minutes after the restart to block a shot from Jack Leahy.

However, Watford played some classic counter-attacking football which meant Cardiff could not truly settle – and they then made the breakthrough in the 73rd minute.

Damani Hunter won a corner on the left and when Aidan Coyne’s kick was not cleared, Adian Manning swept a low volley into the corner.

Cardiff tried to respond but the threat was minimal and Marriott did particularly well to come and claim an 83rd minute free kick that was lofted into a crowded penalty area.

A minute later it was all over. Alfie King’s cross from the left was clearly handled by Benjamin, and Manning stroked the resultant penalty home via the inside of the right-hand post.

Marriott made another fine block when he dashed off his line to deny Will Spiers as he broke clear into the area, before the young Hornets rounded the victory off in style with a fine team goal in the 90th minute.

Marriott cleared downfield, Touray nodded the ball down and substitute Max Delyfer showed a calm head to control it and then play a lobbed pass behind the home defence. Collins accelerated away and as keeper Jacob Dennis came off his line the striker lifted the ball over him and into the empty net.

Before today, Watford had scored only five league goals and had failed to find the net in 10 of their 12 outings. However, the benefits of working through a few beatings, gaining experience and casting their net to find young players with experience of senior football is certainly starting to bear fruit.

Watford: Marriott; Andrews, King, Coyne, Mullins, Abbott, Hamiga (Delyfer 60), Hunter (Balogun 74), Touray, Collins, Manning (Fraser-Grant 88). Subs not used: Ortelli and Fankwe.