CARDIFF CITY 1, WATFORD 2
By Omar Moore
March 13, 2021
Watford avenged their December home loss to Cardiff City by beating Mick McCarthy’s in-form side at the death in South Wales, thanks to a stunning 94th minute free-kick from Watford left-back Adam Masina. A curling shot from Masina went straight past Cardiff goalkeeper Dillon Phillips into the back of the net, sending Watford players and staff into delirium on the pitch and sidelines at the Cardiff City Stadium. Watford were deserved winners, but for large periods of the second half their dominance in possession and control of the match looked like going unrewarded as the game stood at 1-1.
In midweek Hornets head coach Xisco Munoz asked for his Watford team to be “warriors”, and declared they would be warriors at Cardiff. Munoz’s confident prediction came true as Masina pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a shot Phillips should have saved but apparently never saw in the dying seconds. The start of the match wasn’t to Watford’s liking however, as an early Cardiff City barrage in windy conditions and a brief hailstorm in the capital city of Wales, put the away side on their heels. A great cross from Josh Murphy looked certain to meet the feet of advancing Cardiff striker Kieffer Moore but Watford central defender Francisco Sierralta could only slice the ball into his own net past goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann after 14 minutes to give the home side the lead.
Unbowed, Watford responded to the early deficit immediately with a moment of fine skill from their captain Nathaniel Chalobah, and within 60 seconds of the Cardiff breakthrough. Chalobah, returning from a two-match ban for yellow card accumulation, switched the ball onto both feet in consecutive moves just inside Cardiff’s 18-yard box, swiveled into a small pocket of space and lashed a low shot into the bottom right corner past Phillips who couldn’t get to the powerful strike. A glorious goal for Watford, just the tonic to put them in the ascendancy where they remained but get the elusive second goal.
The conditions were tricky for both teams, and Cardiff’s watered down pitch didn’t help matters as players slipped on the turf at crucial times early on. Defending in the 18-yard box was a nervy task for Watford on occasion, with moments of indecision and miscommunication nearly costing them. Yet the only Cardiff threat came from striker Kieffer Moore, whose size and physicality was an ephemeral issue for the Hornets. The only other reasonably effective Bluebirds player was Murphy, a lively presence for Cardiff, who had not lost under their new manager McCarthy in the eleven games he had taken charge of since arriving at the turn of this year.
In the second half a tenacious Watford kept pressing, asking questions of Cardiff, but the finish from their enterprising play repeatedly failed to result in glory. As the game looked like a 1-1 stalemate and frustrating result from a controlled Watford display on the road, up stepped Masina, who along with Chalobah was brilliant all match long, to deliver a super gem of a rare (five years in the making) Watford free-kick goal that gave Watford a massive boost in their pursuit of Premier League football next season.
Cardiff City (out of 10): Phillips 6, Morrison 6, Flint 6, Nelson 7, Ng 6, Vaulks 6, Ralls 6, Brown 6, Wilson 6, Moore 7, Murphy 7.
Substitutes: Sang 6, Bacuna 6, Ojo 6.
WATFORD (out of 10): Bachmann 7, Masina 9, Troost-Ekong 5, Sierralta 8, Femenia 7, Chalobah 9, Hughes 8, Zinkernagel 6, Sarr 7, Sema 7, Joao Pedro 8.
Substitutes: Success 6, Sanchez 6, Gray 6.
Referee: Keith Stroud 6.
Photo: Watford players and staff celebrate Adam Masina’s dramatic, late match-winning free-kick goal to give Watford a 2-1 win at Cardiff City Stadium. (Photo courtesy: SkySports.com)