Watson: “A Fantastic Chance To Win The Cup”
If there’s anyone who knows how to beat Manchester City in an FA Cup final, it’s Ben Watson.
And the former Watford midfielder believes the Hornets have a “fantastic chance” of repeating that feat on May 18.
Watford have beaten Woking, Newcastle United, Queen’s Park Rangers, Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers – in the most dramatic of circumstances – to reach the club’s first final in 35 years.
It wasn’t to be in 1984, but imagine if this time, it’s our time?
Ex-Golden Boy Watson, now plying his trade at Nottingham Forest, knows all about overcoming the odds. He was part of Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic side that shocked the footballing world when his 91st minute header saw the unfancied Latics land the coveted trophy at Wembley in 2013.
Coming on for just his 15th appearance of the season in the 81st minute, Watson ran onto Shaun Maloney’s corner at the near post and guided a stunning header over Joe Hart and into the far corner.
It’s the kind of moment every footballer dreams of – a stoppage-time winner at Wembley in the FA Cup final. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“We’d played City about four or five weeks before the cup final at the Etihad,” said Watson. “We got beat one-nil but we performed really well, and that gave us the belief that we could beat them.
“The City team now is stronger than the City team back then, but they still had David Silva, Yaya Touré, Sergio Agüero, Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and Vincent Kompany – it was super-strong.
“City were a fantastic team but we had that belief, and it’s a one off game.
“I had no sleepless nights beforehand, it was just a case of taking in the moment in and enjoying it.
“On the day, we performed well, and they probably did have that off-day that we needed.”
Watford are not quite in the same position as Wigan were in 2013 – the Latics were two games away from relegation when they won the cup – but there are similarities.
In both the games against City this season, the Hornets were desperately unlucky.
In the match at The Vic, City were put under severe pressure in the late stages of the game with the score at 2-1. Troy Deeney almost scored from a corner to level the game, and Pep Guardiola said City had to “learn about what happened in the last 20, 25 minutes.”
At the Eithad, well, we’ll never know what might have been if Raheem Sterling’s offside opener hadn’t been given. A much-changed Hornets side – designed with the view to stifle and smother Guardiola’s stars – had defended manfully to that point, and had gone into the break with the score at nil-nil.
Watson thinks this time, Watford can go all the way if they can take confidence from those performances and believe in themselves, like Wigan before them.
“We were ‘little Wigan’ at the time, and it was our first FA Cup final,” he added. “There was no pressure whatsoever on our shoulders.
“No-one believed we could win. The only people that believed we could do it were the boys in the changing room and the staff around the club.
“We created that atmosphere by beating a few good teams on the way to the final and giving City a good game at the Etihad.
“We believed, and that’s what Watford have got to do.
“I watched them against Arsenal where they had 10 men for 80-plus minutes, and they were fantastic.
“I always keep an eye out for the Watford results, I still have a lot of friends at the club and speak to a few of the boys.
“They’ve played in big games before. In the semi-final we had a few years ago [against Crystal Palace] we never got over the line, but the lads have done it this year.
“They’ve got to go out and enjoy it and give it everything. I believe they will.
“They need a little bit of luck, as you always do, but if they get that they’ve got a fantastic chance of winning the cup.
“It’s a game where, I think everyone knows, Watford are going to have to be at their best and, no disrespect, City are going to have to have a little bit of an off-day, and not have everyone perform the way they can.
“But, all the pressure is going to be on City. The Watford boys, the fans and the staff, they’ve got to enjoy the day, they’ve got to embrace it. It’s not often you get to an FA Cup final.
“At the end of the day it’s a football match, it’s 11 v 11 and the final can spring a few surprises.”
Yes it can.
Many supporters would be forgiven for seeing Watford in the showpiece final on Saturday opposite the newly-crowned Premier League champions. And yet, Watson is not.
The combative midfielder played one match under Javi Gracia – captaining the side that lost to Southampton in the Spaniards’ first game in charge – but says he could tell straight away that Gracia was the missing piece of the puzzle to take Watford forward.
“I worked for a couple of weeks under Javi [before joining Forest] and he’s a fantastic guy. You could see he had potential to be a good coach.
“Watford look really settled with everything, and that is a huge credit to the bosses.
“The way the owners, people like Scott and Gino, what they have done for the club is amazing – credit to them.
“They had a plan, they’ve stuck to it, and each and every year they are improving.
“They’ve done it again this year – an FA Cup final. You can’t argue with that.”