Greatest Games: Troy Deeney fires Watford to incredible play-off win over Leicester

Watford's semi-final hero Troy Deeney
Troy Deeney stunned Leicester with his dramatic winner

In the latest in the series of Greatest Games, Simon Mail looks back at an extraordinary finale at Vicarage Road with Watford snatching victory against Leicester in an epic play-off semi-final...

"The best Hollywood scriptwriters could not have devised a more ridiculous finale to this match. It was pure theatre and encapsulated why sport plays such a significant role in so many people's lives."

Watford 3-1 Leicester (3-2 on aggregate)
Championship play-off semi-final 2012-13

Euphoria at Vicarage Road

Some matches are forever etched in the memory and this extraordinary encounter will go down in folklore.

There are other strong contenders from Watford games in recent history, including the stunning comeback from 2-0 down to defeat Wolves in last season's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

But the unforgettable clash on May 12, 2013 will be a date that will be talked about as one of the 'where were you' moments for all Watford supporters. Regardless of your club allegiance, the sheer drama of the climax marks this down as the greatest game in recent memory.

Watford went into the match chasing the game after losing 1-0 at Leicester in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final. Dave Nugent's late winner gave the Foxes the edge and set the tie up for a gripping second leg at Vicarage Road.

Home fans packed the stadium in expectation for the Sunday lunchtime decider and were not left disappointed in an epic finale.

Tension mounts in play-off semi-final

The Hornets needed a fast start and levelled the tie on aggregate with striker Matej Vydra volleying in an early goal to hand them the momentum.

The delight was shortlived though with Nugent heading home for Leicester within four minutes to restore their advantage.

Watford reclaimed the second-leg lead, making the overall scoreline 2-2, after the break with Vydra playing a one-two with Troy Deeney before netting his second of the match.

Tension mounted as the clock ticked down with Watford pushing for the winner. That all changed deep into stoppage time with a defining moment which will forever be remembered by everyone in the ground.

A moment never to be forgotten

It was a moment which highlighted the beauty of football. It was a 30-second period where both sets of supporters experienced the full spectrum of emotions.

Pure despair for Watford fans was replaced by relief and then sheer ecstasy. Almost the opposite for Leicester with their delight morphing into frustration followed by complete and utter agony.

The best Hollywood scriptwriters could not have devised a more ridiculous finale to this match. It was pure theatre and encapsulated why sport plays such a significant role in so many people's lives.

During this lockdown, we have had to put sport on hold but memories such as this astonishing ending are the reason why the game is cherished and sorely missed. Nothing else can provide the unpredictable drama, in terms of highs and lows, in such a concentrated period of time.


The build-up to this unbelievable finale started with a dubious penalty awarded to Leicester. Anthony Knockaert appeared to tumble cheaply under a challenge from Marco Cassetti in the 96th minute of the match. Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and Watford head coach Gianfranco Zola looked on in despair.

It looked a dive and in such a pivotal moment was a decision which Oliver should not have made. It was certainly not a clear penalty and all of a sudden our whole season appeared to be ruined.

Knockaert picked himself up, placed the ball on the penalty spot and the fate of both teams was in his hands.

The astonishing climax started with Knockaert's penalty being saved by Manuel Almunia's dive to his left. The danger was not over with Knockaert immediately following up but Almunia secured legendary status by recovering to block the rebound effort.

Sheer relief as we celebrated a great escape and the tie was now back in the balance. But before we could catch our breath, Watford cleared the ball and suddenly the team had launched a counter-attack into the Leicester half.

Deeney delivers at death to shatter Foxes

Surely the unthinkable could not happen? Ikechi Anya races away and plays the ball out to the right wing for Fernando Forestieri and he sends in a cross. Jonathan Hogg heads on at the far post and Deeney times his run perfectly to smash the ball into the net. Cue pandemonium.

The commentator on Sky Sports bellowed: "Do not scratch your eyes, you are really seeing the most extraordinary finish here."

That summed up the moment exceptionally well as fans flooded onto the pitch. I remember being unable to contain myself and it's a finish which will not be surpassed.

Sheer and utter euphoria. That's the only way to describe it and you could not dream of a better way to win a match.

For Watford fans, it was pure ecstasy but for inconsolable Knockaert it was heartbreaking. Spare a brief thought for current Hornets boss Nigel Pearson, who was in charge of the Leicester team, after the agony of this crushing defeat.

It is probably not surprising the play-off final failed to live up to this sensational game and the emotional comedown from the triumph appeared to take its toll on Watford in the forgettable 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at Wembley.

Watford's epic win against Leicester may not win an award for the greatest game, in terms of technical quality, but for unimaginable drama I doubt I will ever see a match to rival this rollercoaster.

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