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Watford’s Fairy Tale Journey: It’s Been Controversial, But Appreciable

Deeney at the death sends Watford to Wembley

 A last gasp Troy Deeney strike sealed one of the most dramatic play-off semi-finals in Championship history and guaranteed Gianfranco Zola’s Hornets a place at Wembley for the first time in 14 years. Following the awarding of Anthony Knockeart’s controversial penalty and Manuel Almunia’s magnificent double save, Watford broke with pace, purpose and composure, to send the Vicarage Road faithful into rapturous celebration and their manager onto his backside. With their final day heartache still lingering in their minds, The Hornets showed commendable character to give themselves a second bite of the bittersweet Championship promotion cherry.

Although Deeney’s stoppage time winner will be revered for its sheer magnitude, the goal perfectly encapsulates the club’s uphill journey over recent years. The game’s drastic swing from near devastation to absolute ecstasy mirrors Watford’s progression as a club. Subjected to staving off administration and relegation, the Hornets have been plunged into financial ruin by poor owners with devious motives. If it wasn’t for their resilient and dogged management on the field, the club may now be sharing the fortunes of their cash-strapped neighbours, Luton Town.

The Hertfordshire club’s admirable community spirit, which, in many ways, has carried Watford through this difficult period, is now reaping the rewards of their new found success. Under the ownership of the Pozzo family, who also turned the fortunes of clubs such as Udinese and Granada, Watford have become a genuine force knocking on the Premiership door. Led by the ‘magician’, Gianfranco Zola, Watford have steamrolled many championship teams through a masterful blend of foreign flair and tactical prowess. With a staggering fourteen loanees from parent clubs, Udinese and Granada, The Pozzo’s have imported an influx of foreign stars to an extent which the Football League has never seen before.

Their strategy, which was criticised by many at the start of the season, now has managers and club chairman throughout the Football League kicking themselves at this missed opportunity. In proving the critics wrong, Zola has concocted a healthy squad full of new recruits and battle hardened championship regulars. Top goalscorer Matej Vydra and player of the season Almen Abdi have attracted interest from Premiership clubs, looking to capitalise on the Hornets extensive scouting system. The ‘total football’ approach embraced by Zola’s Watford has steered them towards a day with destiny against London rivals Crystal Palace.

Palace, who have only won two out of their last eleven games, defeated their bitter rivals Brighton thanks largely to their talisman Wilifrid Zaha. The Manchester United loanee sunk the Seagulls with two excellent goals to secure Ian Holloway’s out of form Palace a place at Wembley. However, this game carries some added spice due to the comments made by Holloway, after the closely fought 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road in February. After the game, the Palace boss voiced his disdain for Watford’s army of loanees, claiming the loophole is ‘ludicrous’. Unperturbed by Holloway’s comments, Watford will look to cap off an extraordinary season by moving into the top flight.

Boldly printed on the front cover of Sunday’s matchday programme is the phrase ‘It’s all about you’. The Hornet’s deep rooted affiliation with the community speaks volumes about it’s faith and dedication to the club. As controversial as their rise may be, the fairy tale nature of Watford’s journey can be appreciated by all.