The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - To comment on this match go to http://boards.footy­ By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

FIRST BLOOD: Dominic Poleon runs through to score the open­ing goal for Leeds

NOT HAPPY: Gian­franco Zola con­fronts Troy Deeney af­ter red

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