Watford’s road to the FA Cup final: Gerard Deulofeu comes off the bench to sink Wolverhampton Wanderers
John Barnes: ‘Winning the FA Cup would be so special for Watford… you remember honours, not whether you’ve stayed in the league for eight or nine years’
Troy Deeney: ‘Vincent Kompany is the league’s best centre-back since Rio Ferdinand, but if I’m on form he’ll have a tough day’
What if we win? Yes, we’re underdogs. But at least we’re that. Any club in the country would love to be that right now, certainly Wolves who, whatever your attitude after three eventful games will be watching on nervously, telling themselves that this is something they can’t affect, because they can’t affect it, but worrying anyway.
Rickmansworth High Street, Tuesday 14th May
Watford, Friday 17th May
Watford vs West Ham United: Jose Holebas to miss FA Cup final after sending off in heavy Hornets defeat
As warm-ups for Wembley finals go, this was a pretty tortuous audition for Watford. With an end-of-season vibe in the stands, this was always going to be the sideshow to the main event of the FA Cup final next Saturday but 10-man Watford spectacularly imploded against a clinical West Ham to hand Manuel Pellegrini’s side a top-half finish at their expense.
The normally ice-cool Gracia was left incandescent by an extremely harsh red card for José Holebas, who now looks set to miss the biggest game of his life. It was history cruelly repeating itself after Watford’s captain Wilf Rostron was suspended for the 1984 final after being sent off undeservedly at derby rivals Luton.
I still have not got over the injustice done to Wilf Rostron in 1984. My sister took a banner to the final declaring “Wilf is Innocent”. I have never forgiven either Roger Milford or Paul Elliott for their parts in him missing the cup final. The thought that Jose Holebas, who has become a bit of a cult figure for his Eeyore-like demeanour but has also been one of our best players this season, was going to miss the final broke my heart. I have to say that it was a good thing that I chose to work from home today as, when the news came through that the red card had been overturned, I sobbed uncontrollably. Suddenly there is a good omen for next Saturday. Jose is innocent and the Hornets have the opportunity to choose from their best players for the final. Our chances are slim, but in a cup game you never know. As long as we all take our best game to Wembley, we have a chance. Oh, there go those nerves again.
A disappointing finale to an otherwise fantastic season. Frustrating to have finished in the bottom half of the Premier League, but don’t let that fool you…A record points total and an FA Cup Final still to look forward to. Progress. That’s all we wanted at the start of the season and we got it. Next season we aim to progress further.
FA Cup finalists Watford started brightly, going close through Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu, but were left to rue their slow start to the second half that saw Chelsea quickly take the game away from them.
Even at a club where life is never simple these are strange times indeed. Chelsea have secured Champions League football, reached the League Cup final earlier this year and could secure passage to Baku and the Europa League final later this week, yet Sarri remains unloved. Perhaps the rather chaotic first-half showing here partly explained why, given their lack of pattern or focus as Watford, slicker and stronger, threatened to run riot.
Watford struck the frame of the goal twice and spurned a host of chances and given the opportunities they created and the positive way they played it is odd that they finish this season having lost their last 11 games against the ‘Big Six’.
To be fair, and as was reflected by a venerable Chelsea panel in the tube afterwards, we started the game as unlike a side preoccupied with the Cup Final as it’s possible to imagine. We were lively, assertive and direct, pinning the home side back with some verve and energy.
We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards. There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.” I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.” A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.
Wolves moved four points clear of Watford in the race for seventh place in the Premier League as goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota helped Nuno Espirito Santo’s side earn all three points at Vicarage Road.
Ryan Bennett’s mistake gifted Andre Gray an equaliser four minutes into the second period, only for Diogo Jota to take advantage of another error – this time from Ben Foster – to win it for Wolves with 13 minutes to play.
Wolves now sit seventh in the league – which would secure a Europa League qualifying spot if Manchester City win the FA Cup – four points clear of Watford and Everton, though their manager claimed they are not eyeing European football.
The player we could least afford to lose for, effectively, four games was Troy. He’s the one. Not the best player in the side, perhaps, but the one we are least equipped to cope without. It was harsh, yes, the red card. He made it possible too, undoubtedly. Equally beyond doubt that, like Ben Foster and Craig Cathcart he’s well, well in credit. “People who do things make mistakes”. We’ve paid heavily for this one… at least three points across the four games by any reasonable reckoning.
The teams ran out to “I’m Still Standing” and I was left cold again. It is not growing on me, but at least you can hear it, unlike the Superman theme. The game kicked off and some of our fans decided that this was a good time to goad Wolves after our cup semi-final win. I always think that pride comes before a fall, so the chants worried me greatly.
We’ve been using ‘I’m Still Standing’ now for three games and we’ve not won a single one. Based on this fact there can only be one logical conclusion… We have angered the footballing Gods and Z-Cars must be re-introduced as a matter of urgency if we are to win any game at home ever again.
Shane Long had given the Saints an early lead when he scored the fastest goal in Premier League history. Long struck after just 7.69 seconds and Southampton held on to their lead until Watford’s Andre Gray levelled from close range.
Craig Cathcart won’t forget the record-breaking moment in a hurry either as the Watford defender was the man at fault. Roberto Pereyra sent the kick-off back to the defender, whose attempted long ball was charged down by Long, who sprinted goalwards before dinking daintily over goalkeeper Ben Foster.
This must count as one of the Premier League’s more surreal occasions, and not just because John Barnes graced this stadium’s turf again, this time with microphone in hand, to bellow a karaoke version of Rocket Man during the half-time interval. More remarkable still was Southampton scoring within eight seconds of Watford’s kick-off, or Shane Long’s continued transformation from shot-shy workhorse into prolific goalscorer. It was only when reality bit late-on that Watford made their own impression on the night.
It’s a funny old night, really. Funny old game, funny old night. The celebration of the imminent Elton John biopic is rather awkward and misjudged, at least in parts. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of half-time nonsense, especially with John Barnes involved and some season tickets up for grabs. It isn’t my cup of tea, but we all find our fun in different ways and we often find other people’s fun a bit cringeworthy.
Gerard Deulofeu’s double earned Watford victory at Huddersfield, who slumped to a record-equalling Premier League defeat. Deulofeu produced a finish similar to his stunning effort at Wembley earlier this month in Watford’s FA Cup semi-final win over Wolves to give his side an early lead.
I will really miss going to Huddersfield. It is a lovely ground and the pre-match pub is excellent, with good beer, good food and plenty of friendly, efficient bar staff. I hope that they return to the Premier League very soon.
It didn’t take long for Watford to get the first goal. Five minutes on his return from injury Deulofeu attempted the same skill that saw him score his first goal at Wembley. It didn’t quite have the elevation like the first time, but it had the same outcome.
It is sometimes said that teams play better with ten men and this certainly applied to Watford for the remainder of the half. Craig Cathcart went close in the 20th minute with a close range effort, but was denied by the leg of Bernd Leno.
“I don’t agree [it was a red card],” said Gracia. “Troy put his arm there but there was no contact with his elbow. I never saw an aggressive movement. I don’t understand why the referee took the decision.” The Spaniard’s frustration was clear but he was also right to praise his team for how they reacted to the loss of their leader. As was the case at Wembley, Watford showed resilience in the face of adversity and created enough chances to feel they were somewhat unfortunate to suffer their first loss here since Boxing Day.
Watford went on to strike the woodwork twice, and Arsenal were reliant on an excellent performance from goalkeeper Bernd Leno. The German turned Craig Cathcart’s effort on to a post and saved acrobatically from Etienne Capoue’s free-kick before half-time. After the break it was much of the same, with Adam Masina smashing the bar from range. Arsenal were also in the debt of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, on as a substitute, who did brilliantly to block Andre Gray’s effort when an equaliser appeared certain.
The majority of Graham Taylor’s most successful players, of either era, experienced the pinnacles of their careers at Watford. We all did it together, but they bought into it, at least partly, because it was a passport out of the lower divisions. That isn’t the case this time around. The real triumph of this season has been to reconnect the modern reality of the Premier League with a basic idea of Watford Football Club, of what it is in our heads and hearts, of what it once was in Graham Taylor’s imagination. It’s true that times have changed, and we’re not going to bump into Etienne Capoue in Our Price. But it feels as if this is a group of players which understands – or has been made to understand, whatever – why this football club actually matters. (A small part of why it matters is Z-Cars, incidentally. Hands off.)
When a match falls on 15th April, you can’t help but think of the events at Hillsborough 30 years ago. On that day, I was standing on the terrace at the County Ground, Swindon. Don was propped up on a crush barrier next to me and a police officer told us that a wall had fallen down at the cup semi-final between Liverpool and Forest. On the coach on the way home we listened to the horror unfolding on the radio. I still find it hard to believe that 96 fans just like me went to a game that day and didn’t come home. What is even harder to take is that those lives were used for political grandstanding and their families have had to fight for justice for so long. As Bill Kenwright said, “They picked on the wrong mums.” I have always thought that what happened to them could have happened to any of us, so we all stand together in the fight for justice.
Pre-Match Build Up
Watford captain Troy Deeney has said the FA Cup semi-final is less exciting than the chance to build a legacy
Will Hughes says Watford won’t take Wolverhampton Wanderers game for granted after victory earlier in the season
Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Richard Lee would toss a coin to decide whether Ben Foster or Heurelho Gomes starts FA Cup semi-final
Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Javi Gracia says reaching FA Cup final would be the best achievement of his career
Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ben Foster thinks it would be harsh to leave Heurelho Gomes out of the semi-final
Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Jave Gracia praises Nuno Espirito Santo ahead of FA Cup semi-final
Before the season began, Watford were joint-third favourites for relegation, considered by bookmakers to be better only than Cardiff and Huddersfield. Javi Gracia was fifth in the betting to be the first top-flight manager to be sacked. General opinion was clear, and scathing. Fast forward eight months and Watford are jostling with Wolves for both seventh place in the top flight and, on Sunday, a spot in the FA Cup final.
Watford’s FA Cup third round opponents Woking have offered their congratulations after incredible semi-final victory
Andre Gray believes ‘anything can happen’ against Manchester City after Watford’s FA Cup semi-final triumph
Watford captain Troy Deeney has drawn praise for emotional and open interviews following FA Cup semi-final win
Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster has said Javi Gracia will not need convincing to select Heurelho Gomes for the FA Cup final
Gerard Deulofeu delivered a sensational display after coming on as substitute to inspire Watford’s dramatic comeback from two goals down to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers after extra time in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
The FA Cup has still got it. Try as some might to kill it off and downgrade its significance, Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers produced a classic Wembley semi-final as a reminder that this great old competition can still touch all the sport’s senses.
The Rocket Men have lift off. It has been a long, long time since Watford were in the FA Cup final but they produced one of the greatest-ever comebacks in the history of this grand old competition to shatter Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Javi Gracia and his players simply refused to lose, to buy into the script that had Wolves continuing their fairytale season with a march into the final against Manchester City. It took a moment of magic to revive them and one of the highest drama to force extra time. And, with the tide of a tumultuous semi-final turned, there was a degree of inevitability about the winning goal, which was scored by Gerard Deulofeu.
As a manager you know it is definitely and incontrovertibly your day when you are faced with one major selection decision, get it demonstrably wrong and then win the game because of it. Javi Gracia’s first full season at Watford is going so well that even his mistakes work out.
Our first small victory comes with the visual display. Wolves’ tableau is impressive, but static. A statement. But it doesn’t compare to the frenzied energy of the waving of 33000 plastic flags, like insects swarming over the away end. You can hear our lot now. We’re fighting back. The game hasn’t even started, obviously. But we’re in it.
Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner. It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.
It was all falling apart, visions of that day against Crystal Palace came flooding back into my mind. I had given up, Wolves don’t throw away two goal leads. On came Deulofeu to help try and salvage something from the game, hopefully he was able to give us the little bit of magic we needed.
Fulham have been relegated from the Premier League with five games still to play after being hammered by Watford at Vicarage Road. The Cottagers needed to avoid defeat to put off their inevitable demotion for another week and were level at half-time, Ryan Babel having equalised after Abdoulaye Doucoure’s stunning opener for the Hornets.
Javi Gracia made two substitutions at the interval, and his tactical alteration paved the way for a dominant second period for the hosts as Will Hughes’ superb volley helped them regain the lead (63). Visibly deflated by the setback, Watford substitute Andre Gray took full advantage to set up Troy Deeney for a simple third (69) before laying off for Kiko Femenia to compound Fulham’s misery (75).
Fulham’s resolve, which had held up impressively after the first goal, completely crumbled. Gray set up easy finishes for the unmarked Troy Deeney and the insultingly ignored Kiko Femenía – with Doucouré again losing a battle with a teammate for the right to administer the coup de grâce. Watford scored three times in 12 minutes and could have had as many more again, and though Sessegnon and the substitute Jean Michaël Seri had chances, all Fulham got was misery.
It did not help Fulham’s cause, on the night, that Watford have an FA Cup semi-final to be preparing for, and places in the side up for grabs. It was telling that Andre Gray came off the bench to inspire Javi Gracia’s side, creating two of their three strikes in the second half.