It’s really not the old Wembley, is it? True, the old Wembley smelt of sour tramp when you got up close and it felt as though it might just fall down if everyone jumped at once…but not even the stale piss of a dozen generations could hide the essential romance of the place, the sense of that-happened-over-there history. This…well, it has the moneyed sheen and efficiency of an airport departure lounge. Any idiosyncrasies have been firmly ironed out by committee, any dark corners where you might be able to scratch your name for those who follow have been illuminated by an artful downlight. All trace of this game will have been wiped clean by the time you read this.
If you’ve come for a calm, balanced perspective on things you’ve come to the wrong place. Surely nobody with a vested interest is capable of anything approaching objectivity this evening, in the context of the quite extraordinary last eight days… your best qualified candidate for this is in Cornwall, of all places, so you’re stuck with me. And just a few hours ago I was shuffling up a dazed Occupation Road with a bouncing six year old proclaiming that we were “definitely going to win the final. For certain. If they score a hundred goals, we’ll score a thousand….”. That result, for one, is no longer in doubt, but don’t expect cold analysis here. We’re far too far gone for that.
Troy Deeney scored Watford’s aggregate winner in an extraordinary finish to their Championship play-off semi-final against Leicester. Twenty seconds after Anthony Knockaert had a debatable penalty saved at the other end, Deeney thumped in a shot.
Watford missed out on automatic promotion after losing to Leeds in a game delayed by serious injury to keeper Jonathan Bond. Dominic Poleon put Leeds in front, but Almen Abdi levelled shortly after. Watford’s Troy Deeney then saw red for two bookable offences before news of a late Cardiff equaliser at Hull left the Hornets needing a goal to go up. But Ross McCormack scored Leeds’ winner with the help of a blunder by replacement keeper Jack Bonham.
The blood on the pitch told its own story, as did 16 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half, and it was a dereliction of duty on the part of the referee, Graham Salisbury, that he did not send Poleon off. Overall Salisbury did not cover himself in glory, having earlier missed Michael Brown denying Jonathan Hogg a clear goalscoring opportunity when he tripped the Watford midfielder in the area.
“I thought at the end that we were going to make it,” admitted Zola, now compelled to lift his men ahead of the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Leicester on Thursday night. “There were 10 minutes to go and, although we had one player fewer, I believed we had the quality. I was taking a big gamble but we had to try.”
This ought to hurt. When you turn away and distract yourself with other things, it ought to be staring you straight in the face whenever you look back. It ought to make you want to punch the wall and throw things and find some really destructive gardening to do. If I take solace in anything – and I’m struggling – then it’s in the reaction of Jonathan Hogg, whose post-match lap of honour was so reluctant and desultory that it barely took him beyond the centre circle and never, not for a moment, involved looking at anything other than his own feet. Lap of honour? Bollocks to that.