Cardiff were prepared to pull out all the stops to land Etienne Capoue two summers ago, wining and dining his agent in Monte Carlo and even toying with the idea of chartering a plane from there to Toulouse to collect the Frenchman and then whisk him off to Cardiff to get the deal done and gazump Atletico Madrid.
Craig Cathcart, you suspect, required less of a sales pitch and a lot less wooing than the Frenchman when Watford convinced him to swap Blackpool for Watford last summer. Yet, on tonight’s evidence and indeed that of the whole of pre-season, Cathcart would have been just as important to Cardiff’s aborted survival as Capoue might have been. He looks like he is going to be integral for Watford’s, that’s for sure. Miguel Britos is suspended for the first two Premier League games, against Everton and West Bromwich Albion, and he will have a fight on his hands to dislodge the Northern Irishman when he is available for selection again.
Watford have made so many signings – ten so far with several more are on their way – that the news Cathcart had signed a new, improved four-year deal went somewhat under the radar. He is inclined to ask why he didn’t get five years, like Troy Deeney, Gabriele Angella, Matej Vydra and Sebastian Prodl. He has ensured the move of Prodl from Werder Bremen has been seamless with a succession of rock solid, assured performances at the heart of the defence. They look a good pair. It was therefore a bit of a worry when Cathcart was left clutching his back after an aerial challenge with Sammy Ameobi.
He shook it off, with typical minimal fuss, and then, minutes later, produced the kind of pass for Deeney’s equaliser that would have fans salivating had Capoue or the absent Almen Abdi made it. From inside his own half, to the left of the centre circle, Cathcart played an inch-perfect, raking lofted pass into the path of Deeney who made no mistake with his first sight of goal. Denney took the plaudits but the credit should go to the unlikely architect. It was almost Rio Ferdinand esque in its execution, showing that Cathcart must have been watching his former teammate closely during their training sessions at Carrington. Quique Sanchez Flores’ mind would have been forgiven for wandering back to his playing days when he played outside of Fernando Hierro at Real Madrid during the mid-90s.
Celebrating his birthday the day before the manager on February 6, Cathcart will probably attribute it to his vision and eye for a pass but he could easily have played it because he was sick of exchanging harmless passes along the Watford back four, particularly with Prodl, in the first half an hour. It was tiki taka at its finest or its worst, depending on your viewpoint.
The centre-half, 26, showed the assist was no fluke with cross-field pass, from left to right, to Allan Nyom on the opposite side of the pitch at the start of the second half. Take a bow, son. Jose Manuel Jurado copied him ten minutes later with what is probably referred to on the London Colney training ground as a ‘worldy pass’ but that’s what he was signed to do. Defenders are not judged on the amount of chances they create or their passing ability, although Cathcart almost made it two assists for the night when he played a hand in the second-half exchange between Deeney and Ben Watson in the box that led to the latter forcing a low save from Simon Moore.
Cathcart will therefore be disappointed not to play his part in a third successive clean sheet. Yet he was not to blame for the goal – Nyom and Heurelho Gomes were, if anyone was – and showed the more conventional side of his game and that he is still at expert at the dirty work by placing himself in the right time to intercept a threatening cross from Anthony Pilkington who had got in behind the advanced Daniel Pudil. He then met a corner from Peter Whittingham with a resounding header, the noise reverberating around the sparse Cardiff City stadium. Connoisseurs of the art of defending would have enjoyed the way he kept imploring Prodl to join him in playing a high line. The way he smashed the ball out of the net when Watford conceded the second showed how much he cared.
Granted it was against Championship opposition and the quicksilver forwards of Sevilla will provide a sterner test on Friday night but, on this showing, it’s going to be a while before Angella gets a sniff of a start while Britos could well rue the headbutt that floored Alvaro Morata for some time to come.
30 Jul 2016