STING IN TAIL FOR HORNETS
NINE minutes. That’s how long Watford spent in the Premier League. Between Fraizer Campbell scoring for Cardiff and Nick Proschwitz equalising for Hull, the promised land glittered tantalisingly on the horizon.
Golden hordes roared. Hope soared. The Championship’s least fashionable club – complete with three-sided stadium – were gatecrashing the elite.
Alas, it was as close as the Hornets would come. Despite a madcap finish at the KC that gave ten-man Watford a final cruel glimmer of hope, the goal – the solitary break, trip, freekick or corner that they needed – would not come.
And when Ross McCormack raced away to score a breakaway goal for Leeds in the 90th minute, the dagger that lay poised above Watford hearts was finally driven home.
Two hundred miles north, the Hull players crowded round TV screens at the KC Stadium erupted in joy.
In crusty old Vicarage Road, the fans could take solace only in the fact that they will now get a second chance in the playoffs against Leicester. Never can ‘We’re going to Wem-berley’ have been sung so forlornly.
“I was shouting to them, encouraging them,” said Hornets boss Gianfranco Zola.“But they had given everything.”
A spate of serious injuries – Leeds striker Steve Morison was knocked cold before young Watford keeper Jon Bond left on a spinal board – saw a phenomenal 16 minutes of firsthalf injury time.
So when Hull and Cardiff finished 2-2, Watford – tied at 1-1 after Almen Abdi had equalised Dominic Poleon’s opener – had ten minutes to get a winning goal.
Yet by then, it was already too big an ask. Troy Deeney, booked for kicking the ball away, stupidly lunged in on Michael Tongue, leaving Watford to play the final half hour with ten men.
“We were giving everything and we were very tired,” added Zola. “We were taking risks. With Troy, it would have been a different situation. “But at the end, I still thought we could have made it. There were ten minutes to go and although we had one player less I knew we had the quality to create a goal.”
Zola didn’t blame Deeney, nor young keeper Jack Bonham, who could have done better with both Leeds goals. The 19-year-old arrived at Vicarage Road as a spectator but, after Manuel Almunia was injured in the warm-up and Bond was taken to hospital, he ended up making his professional debut.
“I am not going to blame him for one second,” said Zola. “I will just ask for a good reaction from him, no more. That is what matters.”
Almunia is likely to return for the play-offs while Bond – hurt when Leeds sub Poleon shoved Ikechi Anya into his own keeper – is being checked over in hospital.
“It was a collision, very unfortunate,” he said. “He has been taken to hospital to be assessed but we are still waiting for the response. The way he went down and the way he wasn’t responding – it looked like bad. But the best situation is that he just has a broken nose.”
As for Leeds, victory was reward for a gritty defensive performance, with new gaffer Brian McDermott pleased with his side’s professionalism.
“For the integrity of the league, we knew what we had to do today,” he said. “We had to make sure we were absolutely spot on in doing the business for our club and our fans. I thought we were spot on.”
FIRST BLOOD: Dominic Poleon runs through to score the opening goal for Leeds
NOT HAPPY: Gianfranco Zola confronts Troy Deeney after red