Watford withstood a late fightback from Cardiff to end a run of six Premier League games without a win with an exciting 3-2 win at Vicarage Road.
A moment of brilliance broke the deadlock after 16 minutes, as Gerard Deulofeu was afforded too much space on the edge of Cardiff's area, waltzing past Bruno Manga and Sean Morrison before finishing beyond Neil Etheridge.
The Bluebirds had a couple of half-chances that fell to Callum Paterson but Ben Foster was never troubled in the Watford goal, while Etheridge produced two smart saves at the other end to deny Roberto Pereyra towards the end of the half and keep the visitors in the game.
Watford picked up where they left off at the beginning of the second half, and doubled their lead in the 52nd minute, Jose Holebas curling his effort beyond the reach of Cardiff keeper, who had done well to deny Pereyra for a third time just minutes earlier.
The hosts were soon out of sight by the 68th minute, as a well-worked move from Javi Gracia's side was eventually finished off by the impressive Domingos Quina, who, like Holebas, curled his effort from the edge of the area past a helpless Etheridge.
Despite being second best for large spells of the game, a Junior Hoilett stunner in the 80th minute and scruffy Bobby Reid finish from a throw-in in the 82nd minute set up a tense final eight minutes at Vicarage Road, although Watford held on for the three points.
Key Talking Point
For all of Watford's good play in the game, which was rewarded with three fine goals, Javi Gracia would be concerned with how easily Cardiff were allowed back into the game. For 80 minutes the hosts dominated proceedings for all of 80 minutes, before two goals from the visitors in two minutes set up a tense finale.
To their credit, the Hornets did hold on for the win, ending a run of six games without a win, although they certainly made hard work of it towards the end.
Starting XI: Foster (6); Femenia (5), Kabasele (6), Cathcart (6), Holebas (7); Sema (6), Doucoure (7), Quina (8), Pereyra (6); Deulofeu (8*), Deeney (6).
Substitutes: Success (5), Okaka (5), Cleverly (N/A).
Pushed hard by Domingos Quina, Gerard Deulofeu was Watford's best player, causing Cardiff numerous problems playing off Troy Deeney. His sublime solo effort broke the deadlock after 16 minutes, before he assisted Holebas for the game's second goal.
His all-round play caught the eye, drifting into some dangerous positions all afternoon to highlight his prodigious natural talent.
Deulofeu running the show against Cardiff. Great assist from him, even better finish.— Nahiyan (@N4hiyan) December 15, 2018
Deulofeu seems to be good again as well— Callum (@CallumWBA_) December 15, 2018
Full-back Kiko Femenia was caught out on a number of occasions as he left space behind him when he ventured forward, while his defending in one on one situations left a lot to be desired.
Key Talking Point
Cardiff left it until the 80th minute before playing at Vicarage Road, which is what would upset Neil Warnock the most after they battled their way back into the game.
Some laboured defending and impressive display looked to have ended the game as a contest when Quina netted Watford's third of the game, but the visitors responded well in their search of nicking something at the end.
After setting up looking to contain their hosts at the beginning of the game, perhaps Warnock should look to be on the front foot earlier in the game, rather than playing when they have to respond to a deficit.
Starting XI: Etheridge (7*); Manga (5), Morrison (6), Bamba (6), Bennett (5); Gunnarsson (5); Hoilett (6), Camarasa (5), Arter (5), Murphy (5); Paterson (6).
Substitutes: Mendez-Laing (6), Peltier (5), Reid (6).
Not for the first time this season, Neil Etheridge was superb in goal for Cardiff, pulling off a number of vital saves to keep the Bluebirds in the game, namely against Roberto Pereyra.
If it wasn’t for Etheridge they could have easy put 6 on us, credit to us for getting back into it, but too little, too late and if we had nicked a draw it would have been daylight robbery😂— Ben Morgan (@longman1927) December 15, 2018
Bruno Manga at right-back for Cardiff simply wasn't at the races, lacking the quality on the ball to threaten when going forward, while his attempt at a tackle during Deulofeu's opener was rather pitiful.
Bruno Manga away from home makes me ill, nothing short of a liability— . (@Pxterson__) December 15, 2018
Watford will hope to extend their winning run when they travel to the London Stadium to face West Ham in a week's time.
Cardiff are also on the road for their next game, as they play Manchester United at Old Trafford next Saturday in day's late kick off.