Under-23 Report | Cardiff 2-0 Watford
The Under-23 side continue to search for that elusive consistency after they went down to Cardiff City this evening.
Riding high after the thoroughly comprehensive 3-0 win over Colchester United last time out, Hayden Mullin’s unchanged outfield would have fancied their chances at the Cardiff City Stadium, even more so when the hosts were reduced to 10 men on 57 minutes.
But despite enjoying more possession, forcing more corners and winning more free-kicks, they were sunk in this Professional Development League collision by two goals from Mark Harris, the second just minutes after Cardiff were reduced to 10 men, meaning the young Hornets’ last five results read lost, won, lost, won, lost.
Hayden Mullins will be aware this is the inconsistency that comes with young players but it must be frustrating nonetheless, especially when they played so well in setting the bar against Southampton and Colchester.
There was no disgrace losing to a Cardiff side featuring experienced Championship players Greg Halford and Anthony Pilkington as well as Beninese international Fred Gounongbe, but it was avoidable as both goals came after Watford turned over possession too cheaply.
The Golden Boys also blew their big chance from the penalty spot, Brice Dje Djèdjè missing from 12 yards on 72 minutes. Had that gone in, we could have been in for a grandstand finale.
Fired by the memory of the 7-1 thrashing they received here last season, Watford started the brighter, forcing two corners in the first four minutes and taking the initiative like you’d expect a home side to. But even early on they looked susceptible to the counter-attack.
From one such raid by the Bluebirds, Cameron Coxe found Harris at the far post with a sweeping ball across the face of goal but Sam Howes just managed to get a touch to it and send it wide for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, Watford were sleepy and allowed Callum Paterson a free header at the far post. He should really have scored. The danger signs were there.
Watford then really did shoot themselves in the foot on nine minutes. A careless ball back by Carl Stewart sent Harris running free. He advanced before shooting across Howes and finding the back of the net in-off the far post. Advantage Cardiff.
The Hornets recovered well and controlled possession in the middle third of the pitch but lacked the penetration and guile to unlock the home defence. The one time they did, courtesy of some neat interplay between Andrew Eleftheriou and Randell Williams, Michael Folivi saw his goal-bound effort from inside the box saved by the legs of Oliver Byrne, the keeper who stepped in for the injured Lee Camp at the 11th hour.
At the other end, the sliding Howes had difficulty not handling the ball outside the box and Pilkington fired just over with an effort similar to the one Troy Deeney scored at West Ham last season. Another mistake, this time by Max Ryan after a poor pass from Charlie Rowan, almost allowed Harris in for his second but, to great relief for the away side, he shot just wide.
The Golden Boys wouldn’t have been pleased to see Cardiff introduce James Waite at half-time, as it was the pint-sized forward who scored four times against them last season. He almost had an immediate impact, firing dangerously across the face of goal.
Cardiff clearly felt Folivi was Watford’s danger man as Connor Young cynically fouled him twice in as many minutes to earn two yellow cards, followed by a red. It was now game on.
Mullins’ side needed to stretch the play to take advantage of the extra man but before they even had time to make 11 against 10 start to count, Cardiff crucially scored again to knock the stuffing out of them. Folivi played a sloppy pass to the overlapping Eleftheriou on the right and a few phases later, Harris scored at the far post. Howes will have been annoyed as he saved Pilkington’s initial effort.
You then definitely knew it wasn’t going to be Watford’s night when Dja Djèdjè, of all people, missed a penalty. The ball struck the post and came back to him. He knocked in the rebound but was it was ruled out as he'd struck the ball for a second time, rather than leaving it to a teammate. It was that sort of night.
HORNETS | Howes (GK); Rowan, Ryan (Sesay, 69), Mukena; Eleftheriou (C), Stewart, Dja Djèdjè, Mason; Pereira (Charles, 79), Folivi, Williams (Bradbury, 86).
Subs not used | Stevens, Hoskins (GK).