Watford FC: The Highs and Lows of the Playoffs

As I’m sure has been made apparent, I am an Arsenal fan and have been all my life. However, after our Champions League qualification was ensured, my footballing attentions turned towards the Glory Hornet Boys of Vicarage Road. The reason for this affiliation is that Watford are a local club, situated in the suburbs of North West London and a close friend of mine is a life-long Hornet.

I was lucky enough to attend 3 of Watford’s most crucial games, fixtures against Leeds, Leiester, before making the long walk down Wembley Way for the play-off final. All of the games were action packed and enforced a number of emotions upon the Yellow Army, however as I’m sure you are aware, the fans are left entering the summer-break dejected (in a similar vein to Spurs fans – thought I’d just throw it in!).

4th May saw the final day of the Championship season, a day that will live long in the memory of Hull, Watford, Palace, Leicester and Forrest. In total, 16 of the 24 teams had something to play for, and the climax of the “most exciting league in the country” (so says my Watford-supporting mate) certainly did not disappoint.

Focusing on Watford, a bettering of Hull’s result against the League Winners Cardiff would have seen the Hornets in the premier league, through the second automatic promotion spot. It seemed like the footballing Gods were conspiring against Gianfranco’s boys, as they were down to their third choice goalie (Bonham) and star-striker Troy Deeney had been (rightly) sent-off. However, a draw from Cardiff gave the Yellows hope, as they too were drawing 1-1 with Leeds as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Hope did not last long, as a howler from the debutant-goalie confirmed that the play-offs would be the only chance to reach the “best league in the world” (according to me!).

A tie against Leicester appeared to be simple-enough for the league’s top-scorers, however a 1-0 defeat in the first leg away meant that the home fixture on the 12th May would be a nervous affair. What unravelled in-front of me was the most dramatic finale to any football match I’ve witnessed, eclipsing Aguero’s winner, just a year previous. With Watford 2-1 up and the game heading for extra time (away goals don’t count in the play-offs), Leicester got an incorrectly-given penalty in the 96th minute. Anthony Knockaert scuffed his effort, forcing a dramatic double-save from former Arsenal legend (debatable) Manuel Almunia. From this, a counter-attack was launched, culminating in a cross from Forrestieri, a knock-down from Hogg and a thunderous finish from Troy Deeney, forgiven for his misdemeanours in the Leeds match. Cue delirious scenes, including a tumble from the gaffer and a mass pitch-invasion. Watford were going to Wembley.

27th of May, and with not a cloud in the sky (a real treat with the UK climate), the Yellow Army and the Eagles (Crystal Palace) embarked on a journey towards to infamous arch. Still on a high from the dramatic 97th minute winner 2 weeks previous, a cloud of optimism covered the Watford fans walking up Wembley Way. However, in a contrast to the previous two fixtures that I attended, the drama and quality of the £120 million match was poor at best. Unforunately, the Watford stars (Chalobah, Abdi, Vyra, Deeney and co.) simply did not show up. The out-going Wilfred Zaha (of Palace) was the star-performer on the day (on-loan from Man Utd), and it was he that won a penalty from a lethargic Marco Cassetti in the 14th minute of extra-time (after a relatively uneventful 0-0 in normal time).  Kevin Phillips smashed the ball past Manuel, in an opposite fashion to Knockaert and with that Palace were going to the Premiership.

So, as a Watford fan (for a couple of weeks), I am left feeling disappointed, yet optimistic. It was a shame that the boys didn’t show up for the final, but it is so often the case that the 3rd place team don’t secure the holy grail of Premiership football. The 3 fixtures really highlighted why we love football, with Deeney’s winner against Leicester, a footballing memory I will never forget. Gianfranco may be in charge of some suspect loanees (with 9 on-loan from Udinese alone), however he tried to get Watford out of the Championship in the right way, playing free-flowing and attacking football. Although it wasn’t to be this year, let’s hope we can see the Glory Hornet Boys in the Premiership for the 2014/15 season; another fun away day for us Gooners!

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