Watford come back from 2-0 down to book FA Cup final spot

Matt Doherty had opened the scoring for Wolves who went 2-0 up but it all changed

Deulofeu scores the winner past John Ruddy. Photo: Neil Hall/EPA

Deulofeu scores the winner past John Ruddy. Photo: Neil Hall/EPA

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Watford 3 (aet)

For Watford, all had seemed lost. Two-nil down and seemingly out of ideas, the dream of only a second FA Cup final appearance in their 121-year history was not so much as on the rocks as being dashed against them. Their fans cherish the memory of when Graham Taylor took them to the Wembley showpiece in 1984, even if they lost to Everton. It looked as though there would be no repeat.

Yet 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.

The Spaniard was the Watford hero. On as a 66th-minute substitute as his team trailed to goals from Matt Doherty and Raúl Jiménez, he summoned a superlative chip from the left-hand side of the area into the far, top corner – a celebration of the technique that once marked him as a Barcelona wonderkid – to give his team hope. It was a goal that looked better with each replay. Deulofeu’s calculations were perfect, down to the degree of spin that he put on the ball.

It was the prelude to a last-gasp equaliser from the penalty spot – converted by Troy Deeney – which so deflated Wolves. The award was correct because Leander Dendoncker did catch Deeney but it still had to be ratified by VAR after a hearts-in-mouths delay.

Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu celebrates scoring his side’s third goal of the game during the FA Cup semi final win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium, London. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu celebrates scoring his side’s third goal of the game during the FA Cup semi final win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium, London. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Deulofeu had brought the fantasy. In extra-time he delivered the ruthlessness, playing a one-two with Andre Gray, racing away from Conor Coady and angling a cool, low finish into the far corner. The joy of the Watford support knew no bounds.

The misery belonged to Wolves. They had been able almost to touch a first FA Cup final appearance since they won the trophy for the fourth time in 1960 and the brutal turnaround was almost impossible to digest. In the coming days they will try to remember how their first season back in the Premier League under Nuno Espírito Santo has been a triumph. But that did not dull the pain here.

At full-time players from both sides sank to their knees, overwhelmed by the emotion and for Gracia, the calm and understated Watford manager, it added up to the first final of his career. City will start as the strong favourites but, after this, who could truly bet against Watford winning a first major trophy?

The atmosphere pulsed throughout, although initially it was tight, with no hint of the craziness to come. The fans had to wait until the 32nd minute for the first big chance and it was an agonising moment for Gray and the Watford support when he lifted it over the crossbar from close range. The delivery from Deeney was lovely and the Wolves defensive inquest was about to start because Gray had found yards of space and was confronted by only John Ruddy. He got the volley all wrong. Might the header have been a better option?

Wolves had flickered at the outset but they imposed themselves after the Gray miss. Dendoncker let fly from 25 yards and when the shot deflected off Craig Cathcart, Heurelho Gomes had to make an acrobatic save. From the ensuing corner Wolves went ahead. João Moutinho worked it short for Diogo Jota and when he crossed Doherty darted inside from the far post and Abdoulaye Doucouré did not go with him. Doherty’s seventh goal of a magnificent season was the simplest of headers.

Jota was a menace to Watford and he almost extended the lead on 39 minutes only to curl the ball beyond the far post. Watford, though, fashioned the chance to equalise in first-half stoppage time after Deeney nodded down for Gray. He worked the shot goalwards this time yet Coady threw himself into a vital block.

Doherty opens the scoring for Wolves. Photo: Ben Stansall/Getty Images
Doherty opens the scoring for Wolves. Photo: Ben Stansall/Getty Images

Gracia sprang a surprise with his tactics. He asked Roberto Pereyra to occupy the spaces behind Deeney and Gray, who was chosen ahead of Deulofeu. Gracia’s usual 4-4-2 became a 4-3-1-2. He wanted Pereyra to create but, equally, to harass Ruben Neves when the Wolves midfielder sought to get his team playing. When Gracia swapped Will Hughes for Deulofeu, he did not change his system.

It is usually intriguing when two counter-attacking teams meet and this was no exception. Who would take the initiative? It was Watford who pressed on to the front foot, it was they that hogged possession yet Wolves were dangerous on the break, particularly after Doherty’s goal.

Nuno stuck with the 3-5-2 system that has powered his team in recent months; Wolves did what they have come to know best and they took control in the early part of the second half. Jiménez had a couple of sightings, Neves curled a free-kick just wide and first Craig Cathcart and then José Holebas were booked for fouls on Jota, whose pace and directness were too much, at times, for the Watford defence.

The tie seemed over when Jiménez took a touch on his chest under pressure before pivoting to crash a volley into the bottom corner. The chance had been created when Moutinho played a free-kick square for Doherty to change the angle of attack and the full-back dropped his cross into the danger zone. VAR replays showed that Jiménez was level with Kiko Femenía. The story from the Watford point of view, however, was just about to begin. – Guardian

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