At the conclusion of the 2012-13 English Championship season, Cardiff City and Hull City sat atop the table, earning a promotion to the top division. Meanwhile, teams 3 through 6, Watford, Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, and Leicester City, respectively, were pitted against each other in a play-off to determine the final time to compete in the ensuing Premier League season. Watford was matched up with the foxes of Leicester, a matchup won by Watford in both regular season encounters. In the first leg at King Power Stadium, the home side Leicester emerged with a tightly contested 1-0 victory, setting up a pivotal rematch three days later.
The second leg was a higher scoring, end-to-end affair. The hosts found themselves ahead 2-1 early in the second half thanks to a brace from star striker Matej Vydra. However, while the aggregate score was even, Leicester held the advantage on the crucial tiebreaker of away goals. Watford pressed for a winner, but by the end of the allotted 90 minutes, were still searching. 4 minutes of extra time were granted by the 4th official, offering the home supporters a glimmer of hope. Then, in the 95th minute, that hope was shot down. Leicester winger Anthony Knockeart drove into Watford’s penalty area, felt a tinge of contact, fell to the ground, and had his prayers answered by the referee’s whistle. With the final whistle impending at any moment, a goal from the spot would surely seal the Foxes spot in the play-off final. Knockeart confidently assumed the penalty duties, with a shot at promotion lying at his feet. Facing him was Watford keeper Manual Almunia, needing a moment of brilliance to keep alive any chance his team still had. The lefty’s struck the ball down the middle of the goal, and it was saved by the feet of Almunia. The rebound fell for Knockeart yet again, and Almunia responded with a superb second save. Offered a slim glimpse of hope, a Watford defender cleared the ball to an advancing teammate, the crowd roaring with renewed life. With one penetrating ball, the hosts advanced to a deep position in Leicester’s half. Midfielder Fernardo Forestieri crossed the ball into the box, finding the head of fellow middie Jonathan Hogg. Though Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel dove out of position towards Hogg, Hogg’s header was directed back towards the center of the box. Then it happened.
Watford striker Troy Deeney, who only earlier that season had been imprisoned for assault, strode forward into the path of the ball. With Schmeichel nowhere to be found, Deeney thumped the ball on the half volley into the open net, sending Vicarage Road into an absolute frenzy. The hero removed his shirt and sprinted into the crowd, as the announcer screamed, “Do not scratch your eyes. You are really seeing the most extraordinary finish here.” Extraordinary it was. Now 97 minutes into the game, the referee’s final whistle blew, Watford having advanced to the final on an aggregate score of 3-2. In a true state of delirium, the home fans rushed the pitch, leading to quite a unique and jarring scene.
While it certainly may have seemed so in that moment, it was not fate. Watford would go on to fall to Crystal Palace in the play-off final, meaning yet another season in the Championship. They would climb back to the top level before long, though. Meanwhile, the Foxes who were so cruelly denied would go on to see some significantly brighter times over the ensuing seasons.
History was made that night 15 miles outside of London, in a moment that epitomizes the beauty of both soccer and sport. As the hero Deeney would later recount, “That goal does prove that it’s never done until it’s done. That goal shows the magic and beauty of football. It’s why we love it, for moments like that.” (Guardian)
Miller, Nick. “Golden Goal: Troy Deeney for Watford v Leicester (2013).” The Guardian, 4 Mar. 2016, www.theguardian.com/football/2016/mar/04/golden-goal-troy-deeney-for-watford-v-leicester-2013.
Sanghera, Mandeep. “Watford 3-1 Leicester (Agg 3-2) – BBC Sport.” BBC News, BBC, 12 May 2013, www.bbc.com/sport/football/22417772.