1st leg: Leicester City 1-0 Watford
2nd leg: Watford 3-1 Leicester City
(Aggregate: Leicester City 2-3 Watford)
Leicester City’s promotion dream was cruelly snatched away on Sunday afternoon, when Troy Deeney’s 96th minute strike, no less than 20 seconds after Anthony Knockaert had his last gasp penalty saved, sent Gianfranco Zola’s Watford to Wembley with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
With 6 minutes of added time shown at the end of the regulatory 90 of Sunday’s second leg, Leicester were awarded a chance to win the tie from the penalty spot after Marco Cassetti brought down Knockaert just inside the box. The debatable decision saw the Frenchman step up with a chance to be the hero once again. Just a week before the winger scored the winning goal to claim his side the final play-off spot, slotting the ball home in injury time against East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest.
Dramatic scenes followed which are likely to haunt Knockaert, manager Nigel Pearson, the players and fans of Leicester City, until promotion does finally come their way. Manuel Almunia saved the spot-kick with the penalty-takers tame rebound seeing the Spanish shot stopper clear the danger. With less than a minute remaining, Watford broke and when Jonathan Hogg’s knockdown found Deeney arriving on the edge of the box, the striker fired the ball home, igniting jubilant scenes and in an emphatic finale.
Missing out in the first-leg through suspension following a sending off on the final day against Leeds United, the striker undoubtedly redeemed himself setting up a final clash at the home of English football and a day out for the supporters.
Thursday night had seen the Foxes take a slender lead into the second leg after David Nugent’s late header secured a 1-0 victory for his side at the King Power Stadium- the striker’s first goal in 17 games for the Foxes. The home side dominated from the beginning, with their best chance falling to Manchester United loanee, Michael Keane whose well-timed volley narrowly evaded the left upright. Nugent also had a back-heel saved by Almunia whilst Ritchie De Laet’s header was straight at the Spaniard.
Leicester were almost ruing their missed chances just before half-time when Jeffrey Schlupp almost let in Ikechi Anya, but his effort was well saved by the legs of keeper’ Kasper Schmeichel. With the scores level at the interval, the Foxes would have been disappointed not to have taken a half-time lead.
The second-half saw more of the same, with the tie hanging in the balance, neither side wanting to be the side that would break the deadlock. However, Nugent finally came up with the goods with a drilled header past Almunia following a pin-point free-kick from Knockaert out wide on 82 minutes sending the Foxes faithful into raptures.
The 2nd leg was all set to be a thrilling occasion and it did not disappoint. However Leicester had their heart in their mouth on 15 minutes when hotshot Matej Vydra’s stunning volley found the bottom corner to open the scoring. Watching the ball drop over his shoulder the Czech striker fired the ball home to give the Hornet’s the lead- cancelling out the Foxes one goal lead from the first-leg.
With Leicester continuing in the same vein as they had from the off they got their reward just four minutes later, regaining the lead after disappointingly falling behind despite early dominance. Nugent rising highest to a Knockaert corner to beat Almunia to his left, the striker’s second in two games following his barren spell.
The Hornets dominated the early stages of the second period and had numerous chances to level the tie once again. Cristian Battocchio brushed the outside of the post with a drilled effort on 60 minutes before Vydra finally levelled the scoring on 65 minutes. Neat play around the box and a one-two with Deeney opened up a chance which he coolly converted just out of Schmeichel’s grasp. From then on there only looked one winner.
A Watford bombardment followed which credit to the Foxes they valiantly withstood. With the visitors on the rocks and with the Hornet’s struggling to break them down it looked as though the game would peter out with extra-time to follow. However what happened instead will indefinitely go down as one of the greatest ever play-off finales.
Following a lengthy break in play with a head injury to Watford defender Joel Ekstrand, the fourth official indicated 6 minutes of added time at Vicarage Road. When the play got back underway- Harry Kane almost found the winner when Knockaert fizzed in a low cross, but the Tottenham Hotspur loanee couldn’t quite get his foot around it and divert the ball towards goal.
With just one minute remaining, Knockaert drove past two Watford defenders and just as he was about to drill the ball across goal, Cassetti brought down the Frenchman, despite replay’s showing that Watford had been hard done by.
The resultant spot-kick was saved and Watford’s counter-attack ended with one of their player’s of the season; Deeney sealing the deal and sending Zola’s Watford outfit to Wembley with one last shot at the big time.
Leicester were lucky to be even in the play-offs after a spell of 10 games without a win, but finding form at just the right time ensured a last gasp play-off spot. They should therefore not feel to disappointed by the defeat, but the manner in which it happened is gut retching for everyone involved.
The Foxes will now have to prepare for another season in the npower Championship as they continue in their search for a return to the promised land of the Premier League.
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