Today we celebrated the ten year anniversary of arguably the greatest moment in football history.
“Knockaert takes, Almunia saves. Knockaert follows in with the rebound, Almunia saves! Absolutely astonishing! Here come Watford, Forestieri. Here's Hogg, DEEEEEEEENEEEEEYYY! DO NOT SCRATCH YOUR EYES! You are really seeing the most extraordinary finish here!"
To understand the magnitude of Troy Deeney’s gargantuan goal against Leicester City on this day in 2013, you first have to understand the magnitude of the play-offs. The end of season semi-finals are as intense and as important as football comes. The play-offs are far more stressful than a Champions League final, for example.
In the Champions League final, you know what division your team will be playing in next season. Your team are likely going to compete in Europe’s premier competition again the following season and can still attract the same calibre of player.
The play-offs make 46 league matches come down to one match. A whole season of ups and downs provides you with no guarantees whatsoever. Often, your entire campaign can be decided by one refereeing decision. One moment of magic. One goal can change the entire direction of your football club for years to come.
Notts County lost a play-off semi-final in League Two to Coventry City in 2018. Now the Magpies are battling to get out of the National League after losing their EFL status, while the Sky Blues are three games away from the Premier League. For third placed Watford and Leicester, this was a crucial encounter as they strived to reach the Premier League.
Watford had missed out on second spot having drawn on the final day while Leicester snuck into the play-offs themselves thanks to a 95th minute winner. This was a classic play-off match-up, with all of the stars of EFL yesteryear still doing the business. Matej Vydra joined Deeney up top for Watford while David Nugent was terrorising defences for the Foxes.
Leicester won the first leg 1-0 after a late goal from England’s goal poaching genius and the pair returned to Vicarage Road to deliver one of football’s most iconic moments. Vydra is perhaps the unluckiest name from this famous day. He scored not one, but two genuinely brilliant goals either side of a Nugent strike as the two provided epic entertainment.
In what was surely going to be known as the Nugent/Vydra semi-final after a brace apiece, injury time beckoned. The nerves began. Knockaert set off on a run. He skipped past a couple of challenges before brushing into Marco Cassetti in the box. As soon as he crossed the white line of the penalty box, the Frenchman’s legs turned to jelly but he collapsed in such a fashion that it convinced the referee to point to the spot.
Cue fury from the Watford players and fans, but it was too late. For some inexplicable reason, the pantomime villain, Knockaert, decided this was the time to take his first penalty for the club. It was awful. A tame effort down the middle was stopped by Almunia, who also go to the follow up as pandemonium ensued in the stands.
As some of his teammates rushed to congratulate him, he batted them away, as the ball was cleared upfield. Quick as a flash, Fernando Forestieri picked the ball up on the right wing, picked out Jonathan Hogg at the back post and, with Kasper Schmeichel flailing, he nodded the ball back for club icon Troy Deeny to fire home.
The celebrations were wild. Gianfranco Zola sprinted down the touchline as the emotion of the occasion took over and fans burst onto the pitch as their gaffer lost his footing. Flares lit up the crowd and a topless Deeney was mobbed, having launched himself into the stands. It was nothing short of beautiful.
There were a total of 20 seconds between the penalty miss and the winning goal. 20 seconds that defined a season. 20 seconds that made the world realise why they love football. Ten years on, it still remains the greatest end to a football match that we have ever seen.