By Kevin Affleck
Forget the Sangria – crack open the Champagne!
In a scarcely believable day that will live long, long in the memory, Watford somehow came from two goals down with 12 minutes to play to send this thrilling match to extra time with the most nerveless penalty from Troy Deeney. Not done there though, not by a long chalk, the Hornets came again and won it unbelievably in extra time through Gerard Deulofeu to reach the final of the FA Cup for only the second time in the club’s glorious history. It really was pinch-yourself stuff.
Deulofeu was the hero, no question. He will have been livid to be on the bench for a game of this magnitude, but he did all his talking with his star-dust filled feet and scored two goals of extraordinary quality to spark the fightback and then complete it. The first came via the sort of chip on the green turf of Wembley that Phil Mikelson would have been proud of at Augusta while the second showed exactly why he played for Barcelona and why he was once considered the hottest prospect in Europe. He really is magic, you know.
Deeney doesn’t possess anything like Deulofeu’s natural ability but he’s got the sort of mental strength few players have and he showed it in abundance by ramming in a penalty with just seconds remaining of normal time. What cojones that man has. This penalty will be talked about in the same breath as that Leicester goal when his time here is done – it was that significant. Nobody at this club deserves a day out at Wembley in an FA Cup final more than him.
It looked for so long like Watford’s lousy record at Wembley would continue, that they would be sent spinning to a fifth straight defeat at the home of English football and a sixth defeat in seven. The Hornets were out-maneuvered and out-worked by a smarter, more streetwise Wolves side for so long.
Nothing really went right for Gracia’s side, they weren’t at anything like their best and you got this sinking feeling it wasn’t going to their day when Andre Gray, the man running red hot in front goal, missed one golden chance and saw another blocked in the first half. You rarely see the Hornets done from a set-piece as Gracia pays such attention to them so when both of Wolves goals came from dead balls, one just after the half hour and another just past the hour, you feared the worst.
But this Watford side just doesn’t know when it’s beaten and this victory was more about character, about not knowing when you are beaten than it was anything else. It had the virtues Gracia has been preaching all season, about attitude, about teamwork about being demanding, stamped all over it.
Wolves undoubtedly started the better of the two sides and settled into their work much earlier much smoother.
Jonny tried to bend one in the far corner inside 20 seconds and then Joao Moutinho curled a free-kick just over the bar. We had only played five minutes but already Wolves had served notice of their intent. Craig Cathcart, who had an excellent first 45 minutes, also had to have his wits about him to headed away a free-kick from Moutinho.
It took a while for the Hornets to warm to their task, to show what had got them this far. Roberto Pereyra quickly moved his feet and dropped his shoulder to draw fouls from Romain Sass and Ruben Neves, earning the pair a yellow card in the space of 15 minutes. This was more like it. The Hornets were starting to come out of their shell.
On the back of a rendition of ‘We've got Capoue’, Watford enjoyed their best period of the half. Deeney smashed one in the stands, Will Hughes mis-kicked one from a short corner and then Andre Gray, airborne and six yards out, stabbed one over when trying to convert a cross from Deeney. It was the sort of combination work from the pair that prompted Gracia to opt for Gray ahead of Deulofeu.
Back came Wolves and from the corner that was conceded after Heurelho Gomes tipped over a long-range shot from Leander Dendoncker, Doherty headed in the opener. It looked a soft goal and the replays confirmed it, the defence not getting out quick enough and then Abdoulaye Doucouré allowing Doherty to run off the back of him at the far post.
It could have got worse had Jota, drifting off the left flank, bent one into the far corner soon after, but his effort dropped just wide of the far post. At that point you wanted half-time to come, for Watford to get in and regroup but they came within a whisker of going in all square. Deeney found Gray with a cross from the right and it took the block of all blocks from Conor Coady to deny the former Wolves schoolboy a goal.
Watford needed to came out the traps at the start of the second half and take the game to Wolves, and yet it was Nuno Espirito Santo’s side who looked the more likely to make the next addition to the scoreboard. Raul Jimenez forced a save from Gomes, then almost got on the end of a cross-shot from the right before Neves almost bent a free-kick from the left into the far corner. The Hornets were living dangerously.
So dangerously that Wolves seemed to have killed the game on 63 minutes. A free-kick routine Watford often use was deployed by Wolves and Jimenez chested it down and volleyed it home. Jimenez wore a mask in celebration but there was no masking the fact that the goal had more than a suspicion of offside about it.
Gracia only had one real option and that was to send for Deulofeu. He’d been on the field for just 13 minutes when, out of nowhere and with no room to play with, he produced an outrageous chip, with a bit of check and a spot of side, to drop one over John Ruddy and into the far corner. It was some goal and now it was game on.
Wolves knew they had a job on to weather the storm and sent for reinforcements, bringing on Ryan Bennett to stiffen an already fortified backline. It was now attack against defence. The Hornets huffed and puffed but just couldn't blow Wolves’ house down.
It needed a hero to emerge and who plays that part better than Deeney. He won a penalty, got up, held his nerve amid an agonising wait for VAR and thumped in a penalty with everything he had. Cue absolute bedlam.
The fans were just regathering themselves after normal time when just before the end of the first period of extra time, Deulofeu latched onto a pass from Gray, hared down the inside right and then clipped it past Ruddy. It was right in front of the Wolves fans and they couldn’t believe it.
It will go down as one of the great semi-finals. Now for the final but let’s celebrate this one first. What a day, what a game and a what a club.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK); Femenía (Janmaat 108), Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas (Masina 98); Hughes (Deulofeu 66, Sema 112), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney (C), Gray.
Subs not used: Foster (GK), Quina, Kabasele.