My blog on an extraordinary afternoon at Wembley for the FA Cup semi final is a bit late and shorter than usual. The reason being that one group of people who are never late are my daughters. The second of which was born three days after the game, six weeks early.
Thankfully, she’s doing well and I can finally update the blog with my entry from the FA Cup semi final.
Competition: FA Cup semi final
Attendance: 80, 092
Dogs spotted: None (plenty of lobos, though)
FA Cup semi final build up and previous
Watford and Wolves are exactly the type of sides that should be doing well in this competition. They are comfortable mid-table Premier League outfits and were safely out of the races for the top, and bottom, spots in the league by the time the Cup got to its latter stages.
The Hornets started their cup campaign with three successive away victories over Woking, Newcastle, and QPR to get themselves into the quarter finals. They were then rewarded with a home tie against Crystal Palace. Watford won a close game 2-1 to return to Wembley for the first time since 2016. They have played at the FA Cup semi final stage on six previous occasions but only made the final once before.
Wolves have had a slightly tougher run to Wembley. They overcame Liverpool at Molineux in the Third Round before needing a home replay to overcome local rivals Shrewsbury Town. They then beat Bristol City at Ashton Gate before a memorable home win against Manchester United in the quarter final. The Midlanders have been to 14 previous FA Cup semi finals. They’ve gone on to win the cup on four occasions in 1893, 1908, 1949 and 1960.
The first five matches between the two sides were all in the FA Cup with Wolves winning twice via replays in 1912 and 1981 and Watford winning once in 1980. Their next FA Cup meeting was in 1993 when Wolves once again were the victors. Wolves then made it five wins out of six with a 4-1 win in the sides’ last FA Cup meeting in 2008.
Late drama, plastic flag and souvenir bags
The experience of my first big occasion at Wembley was pretty awe-inspiring. The programme was a thing of beauty and I was in my seat watching all the preparations well over an hour before kick-off. Once the players had done their walk around on the pitch, the festivities began with presenters from each club forwarding some clips on the big screens.
The players then returned to warm up as the seats began to be filled. Once the stretches and shooting drills were complete it was time for the countdown to the kick-off. Both clubs had arranged supporter displays for their respective ends. Watford had gone for plastic flags to show yellow, red and black strips. The Wolves fans, on the other hand, had plastic bags to display the club badge and name in their club colours. Watford’s display lasted longer as flags are easier and more fun to wave around than holding up a plastic bag, although the Wolves end did look good.
Watford leave it late
The game, for the most part, looked to be heading to a fairly comfortable Wolves win for long periods. Watford, an incredibly awkward side to play against, had plenty of possession but struggled to make much of an impact in the final third. Wolves, however, picked their moments and showed real quality in attacking areas.
They were soon in the lead. Matt Doherty, a regular member of my fantasy team this season, got on the end of an excellent cross to head home a goal that sadly was in the wrong competition to earn me any more points. Wolves then doubled their lead in the second half. Jimenez got on the end of another cross, controlled and volleyed in the second in one movement.
Los Lobos (Portuguese for Wolves) looked to be cruising. Their coaches embraced and Jimenez celebrated by donning a Mexican wrestling mask. They even took off a couple of their impressive midfielders. Watford came back into the game, however, an began to impose some pressure.
On came Gerard Deulofeu. He straight away got into the wide areas and caused Wolves a few more headaches. The Spaniard soon reduced the deficit. He found some space and extravagantly flick curled the ball over Ruddy into the far corner. The Hornets were back in the game and dominated the final minutes.
It looked as though they’d just fall short, however, until Deeney was fouled inside the box. The ref pointed to the spot. To add to the drama (yes, add) a VAR review was requested to check the decision. It came back positive for the Watford fans and they had a last minute penalty to take the game to extra time. Up stepped Deeney and in flew the ball.
Extra time was a bit of a blur but a Deulofeu inspired counter attack won the day and completed the dramatic comeback for Watford. Deulofeu himself finished off the move in style and Watford would be heading back down to Wembley in May.
All in all an amazing afternoon topped by a great game between to very different but equally matched sides. In the end, it was Watford’s variety and flexibility that won the day over Wolves’ style and skill. It would have been a fitting final between two sides that really valued the cup this season. Watford, however, go on to meet Manchester City in the final after the Citizens beat Brighton in the other semi final.