Watford and Brentford: penalties, promotion and play-offs

May 17, 2013 in Championship, League 1 by Ben Said Scott

Kevin Keegan once said: “that if history is going to repeat itself then I think we can expect the same again”. Aptly, I remember this quote from a t-shirt that my Dad used to own. It was bright yellow…

Zola

At about quarter to 3pm on the 4th of May, a sign went up on the Vicarage Road scoreboard – FULL TIME HULL 2 – 2 CARDIFF – and a roar went up from the crowd. 10-man Watford needed one goal to be promoted into the Premier League. Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that, a breakaway goal for Leeds put paid to the automatic spots. A few days later the situation looked even worse for the Hornets. An abject 1-0 defeat against Leicester meant that Watford needed a victory by two clear goals to get them through to the final. Boy, did they deliver.

In the 94th minute, Watford, this time winning 2-1 against Leicester, had put in a dominant second half performance, and then the Foxes’ Anthony Knockaert went down softly in the penalty area and referee Michael Oliver pointed toward the penalty spot. The crowd gasped. They would have been better off saving their breath.  3 minutes later - following a double save from Manuel Almunia, a break away by Ikechi Anya, a sublime knock-down from Jonathan Hogg and a blistering finish from Troy Deeney – Watford were on their way to Wembley and the crowd was all over the pitch jumping up and down with all the players in yellow.

It would have been one of the most astounding finishes to any match I had ever seen, except that it replicated almost blow for blow a game played on the final day of the League One season. Brentford played Doncaster in the final game of the season with Brentford needing a win to leapfrog Doncaster and take automatic promotion. With a minute left to go, Michael Oliver, again in charge, awarded Brentford a penalty; however, on-loan Brentford player Marcello Trotta smashed the spot-kick into the crossbar. Doncaster broke, Billy Paynter played it into James Coppinger who tapped in to an empty net. Doncaster promoted, Brentford forced into the play-offs.

Unbelievable how closely together two such strange yet similar incidents have happened, but it is games like these that make football such a wonderful sport.

Now the two third place teams are both into their respective play-off finals and both must fancy their chances of victory.

Brentford, though, seem in more trouble. They finished the season in 3rd place, two points ahead of Yeovil. However, in Paddy Madden, the Glovers have the top striker in the league. They also have an outstanding record against the Bees - their record against each other over two games is 3-1 and 3-0. Both victories weren’t as easy as the score lines suggest, but they weren’t difficult either. That’s not to say it is a foregone conclusion. Brentford have Clayton Donaldson in their ranks, the second top scorer, and they did end up with more points than Yeovil over the 38 games.

Watford are in better shape. Crystal Palace have lost the league top scorer Glenn Murray to a bad knee injury, while Watford have both Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra both with 20 goals or over. Vydra in particular is going into the final game on fire; a spectacular double against Leicester set up the frantic ending. A 3-2 win for Watford back in August at Crystal Palace set up the season nicely for the Hornets and a 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road was an unfair reflection on a game in which Watford could have been five goals up before half-time. Of course, Palace are no easy prospect themselves. With Yannick Bolaise and future Manchester United starlet Wilfried Zaha on the wings, the Eagles are going to have a lot of space to run into on that Wembley turf.

One thing is for sure, though, if either of the games are decided in the way the last days of the season were, then we are in for two more magical moments.

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