Part of what makes last-minute winners so special is their rarity. They are finite moments, fleeting by nature, but ones which live on for an eternity in the memories of fans. When you combine such drama with an emotionally-charged environment like the play-offs, sparks fly.
Troy Deeney is not your stereotypical footballer. He’s a burly, straight-talking centre forward who cut his teeth in England’s lower divisions before gracing the Premier League as Watford’s club captain. He was a fan favourite long before his 97th-minute strike against Leicester, but this was the moment where Deeney entered the annals of Watford legend.
Fine Margins for Watford
The 2012/13 season had been a rollercoaster ride for The Hornets faithful; it ended in crushing defeat to Leeds United, dashing hopes of automatic promotion and condemning them to the play-offs. Leicester stood in their way of a place at Wembley and, after a cagey first leg, Watford arrived back at Vicarage Road still very much in the tie.
Fans know the story from here: Matěj Vydra nets twice either side David Nugent’s equaliser, before Antony Knockaert takes an incredibly soft tumble in the box to earn Leicester a 95th-minute penalty.
The crowd’s hands move from shielding their eyes, to punching the air in celebration, to covering their mouths in breathless disbelief
Knockaert, emboldened by his penalty-winning heroics, insists on stepping up to the spot – ahead of Leicester’s regular penalty taker, Nugent. He misses.
The next 20 seconds are a blur. Knockaert fluffs his lines again from the rebound and Watford are away, countering at breakneck speed. Ikechi Anya opens up his legs and begins to accelerate down the right-wing. The crowd’s hands have since moved from shielding their eyes, to punching the air in celebration, to covering their mouths in breathless disbelief.
Anya’s neat through ball finds the feet of Fernando Forestieri, who continues Watford’s charge towards the byline. The Argentine creates half a yard for himself before looping a speculative cross to the back post. Surely not…
Deeney Comes up Big
The ball is met mid-flight by Jonathan Hogg, who cushions a lovely header back across the face of goal. Who should it fall to but the feet of Deeney? Bulldozing his way to the box – with all the grit and tenacity that’s taken him this far in his career – he shows his often underappreciated reading of the game, hovering around the edge of the area before pouncing.
The half-volley is struck with venom. The flailing Kasper Schmeichel is left with no chance as the ball rifles past him, and two City players on the goalline, almost breaking the net.
In many ways, Deeney perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Watford fan: loyalty, passion, and a never-say-die attitude. Although the resulting trip to Wembley ended in heartbreak, Deeney’s goal will never be forgotten. Parents will tell their kids. Kids will tell their kids. A moment. Immortalised.
No feeling will ever compare on an emotional level to the one felt by Hornets that day. It was Watford. It was Deeney. It was… unforgettable.