ILL-DISCIPLINE cost Watford in south Wales as Daniel Pudil and Nathaniel Chalobah were dismissed, allowing Aron Gunnarsson to bag a last minute winner for Cardiff City in injury-time.
Tommie Hoban had Watford in thefirst half before Pudil and Chalobah were both dismissed in the second half. In between the dismissals, Peter Whittingham levelled from the spot following a harsh penalty award before the late winner from Gunnarsson.
Zola pulled a surprise in making three changes to his side, dropping Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri and Troy Deeney to the bench and bringing in Mark Yeates, Matej Vydra & Alex Geijo for his first start.
Malky Mackay three changes as well, Ben Turner coming in for Kevin McNaughton and Craig Bellamy and Craig Noone replacing Gunnarsson and Craig Conway.
It took until the 17th minute for either side to create a notable chance, Geijo feeding Vydra who saw his shot well blocked by David Marshall for a corner.
Marco Cassetti was lucky to remain on the field shortly after when he brought down Noone for the second time in the opening 20 minutes with a cynical challenge just outside the area; the Italian severely troubled by Noone`s pace.
Just before the half-hour mark Watford took the lead, Hoban stabbing home from close-range as he met Cassetti`s header.
Former Hornet Don Cowie nearly immediately replied, however the Scot`s volley only struck the side netting.
Cardiff started the second period in charge of the game, but for all their position the hosts were unable to create much of substance, Heidar Helguson failing to make the most of a cross which he would have preferred on his head.
Just before the hour, Watford had the first decent chance of the second period, Geijo shooting low with little backlift only for Marshall to push away one-handed.
From the resulting corner Fitz Hall was unfortunate to clip the bar following a scramble.
Helguson`s threat was always evident, the former ‘Orn testing Manuel Almunia with a header 62nd minute which the Spaniard had to be alive to in order to deny the Icelander.
Pudil then managed to get himself sent-off for an off the ball offence which went unnoticed by all except the linesman and home supporters.
It went from bad to worse for the Hornets as Jonathan Hogg was then penalised for handball from point blank range. Up stepped Whittingham to level with his seventh goal of the season.
Chalobah was the next to jeopardise Watford`s position when he picked up a second booking for kicking the ball away.
With the Hornets down to nine men, Cardiff City began to assert themselves on the game more and more, Connolly coming close from a corner, Lloyd Doyley clearing over the crossbar.
Watford continued to weather the storm, Almunia doing well to deny Noone whilst substitute Mark Yeates should have got his head up to square the ball to the unmarked Doyley from six yards.
In the 91st minute, substitute Gunnarsson bagged the winner, nodding home to secure three points from 12 yards.
Cardiff City: Marshall; Connolly, Hudson (c), Turner, Taylor; Cowie, Whittingham; Noone, Smith (Gunnarsson), Bellamy (Mason); Helguson.
Subs not used: Lewis (GK), McNaughton, Gestede, Conway & Kim.
Watford: Almunia (c); Doyley, Hall, Hoban; Cassetti (Thompson), Chalobah, Hogg, Yeates, Pudil; Vydra (Anya) & Geijo (Deeney_.
Subs not used: Bond (GK), Abdi, Forestieri & Murray.
Attendance: 20 077
Referee: Mr M Heywood.