Half of injury time had been played. Francisco Sierralta’s own goal was cancelled out by Nathaniel Chalobah’s phenomenal finish over 75-match-minutes earlier. The clash looked set to end in a draw, even after Ismaila Sarr was fouled just outside the top-right corner of the box. Watford only had a free kick. Cardiff would not have been the most worried: after all, the last time the Hornets scored directly from a free kick was in the April of 2016.
Adam Masina, who had an otherwise quiet match, decided it was time to lift the curse. Following a half-step back and three strides forward, the left-back smashed the ball as hard as he could at the center of the net. Dillon Phillips, the Cardiff keeper, awkwardly dove as the cannon of a shot grazed his right bicep before slamming into the back of the net. The following celebration was the most passionate of the season – and rightfully so.
But, was the curse-lifting goal a strike of quality, or did the Hornets get lucky (not that anything could change the magnitude, importance, and joy of the goal)?
Should The Goal Primarily Be Called A Goalkeeping Error?
Phillips has performed well for Cardiff since first taking over for Alex Smithies following an injury. In 9 league appearances prior to the clash against Watford, Phillips conceded four times and kept five clean sheets. Heading into the match, the Cardiff goalkeeper was in fine form.
Of course, he will have wanted to do better to keep out the free kick – especially considering the ball struck the center of the net. And, as the ball did brush off his bicep, it is evident a save was not the most impossible of tasks from the strike. Simply stated, some other keepers in the Championship likely would have kept the ball out of the net, given the shot’s central placement.
Further, the way Phillips set up his wall was too picturesque and not precise. A three-person wall looks good and is expected, but the goalkeeper did not ensure it was in a perfect position. At the moment Masina shoots, Phillips’s line-of-sight with the ball is blocked by the wall – particularly Will Vaulks.
The issue from the slight misplacement of the wall was compounded by Phillips’s first step. As his left-hand side of the goal was completely open, he shifted his weight in that direction. So, when Masina’s shot went back across the direction Phillips was falling in, all he could do was flail his arm.
So, the main reason for Phillips not saving the ball goes down to his first step making his weight lean in the wrong direction and obstructing his view of the ball. But, perhaps Masina knew this movement was inevitable, and thus hit his shot accordingly.
Masina’s Smack Of Superb Quality
Even though Phillips will have wanted to do much better, nothing can be taken away from Masina’s strike. The goal did have a goalkeeping error, but Masina deserves more credit than Phillips does blame.
Firstly, the pace the ball was hit at would make even the best of goalkeepers fearful. As he admitted Will Hughes told him, getting the ball on target was a must, even if it meant sacrificing perfect placement. So, Masina knew his best shot at scoring was power instead of top-corner precision, so he did just that.
And, despite the strike going into the center of the net, accuracy was still needed. The ball was less than an arm’s length away from Vaulks (the player who was obstructing the goalkeeper’s vision). The ball then flew less than one meter away from Sierralta’s head – making Phillips’s movement even more unnatural because he thought a redirection was imminent.
The in-swinging curl of the ball, combined with the multiple near-misses, high velocity, and placement back where the keeper was coming from, made the free kick too difficult to save for Phillips. If Masina shot further to the right, the wall would have blocked the strike. More to the left, and Sean Morrison was there to clear it off the line.
Phillips could have certainly done better, but nothing should be taken away from Masina’s powerful hit and particular placement (or lack thereof) to lift Watford’s free-kick curse – and he could not have chosen a better time to do so.