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This has already been a phenomenal season in the Championship and it all climaxed on an incredible final day.

Last Updated: 09/05/13 at 08:08 Post Comment

Watford: can they bounce back from their final-day heartache?

Watford: can they bounce back from their final-day heartache?

We saw three different teams in the remaining relegation spot above Bristol City and Wolves during the 90 minutes and it was eventually Peterborough, one of the form teams who've played impressively under pressure, who went down.

There was similar pressure at the top end, but that's the type of pressure that everybody wants to be involved in. The teams battling for sixth place knew the prize in this 27th season of the play-offs has gone up to £120million. The richest game in football has got richer.

And on Saturday we saw the footballing equivalent of the Hokey Cokey; Forest were in and then they were out; Bolton were in and then they were out; and eventually it was Leicester in - and thankfully for them they stayed there.

The Foxes jumped from eighth to sixth after a downward spiral from the dizzy heights of second earlier this season. When they bought Chris Wood for £1million everybody thought they were going to challenge Cardiff for the title.

In the end they scraped into the play-offs by winning the last game of the season 3-2 in front of 28,500 fans at the City Ground and it's ironic that so soon after it seemed their season had fallen apart, they've now been installed as second favourites for promotion behind Brighton.

When it mattered they found the resources, the formation, the results and the goals to get them there and Anthony Knockaert's injury-time goal could now be worth £120million to them.

This will be their sixth appearance in the play-offs having lost three previously and winning two under Brian Little and Martin O'Neill. They certainly know what the play-offs are all about. They have never lost an away leg in the play-offs and must now find a way to win against a Watford team that did the double over them in the league this season.

However, the madness that has surrounded Leicester's home games has made me wonder if the KP Stadium is named after KP Nuts, rather than King Power and barely a fortnight ago Watford won there through goals from Troy Deeney and a Nathaniel Chalobah stunner. This Watford side seem to have the Indian sign over them.

Devastating

However, they'll be helped by the fact that Deeney is suspended and the fact that Watford need to recover psychologically, as much as physically, following their devastating last-day defeat to Leeds. A win on the final day would have seen them go up automatically after Hull drew with Cardiff but now they must recover and go again.

More importantly, their goalkeepers need to recover. They lost Manuel Almunia in the warm-up, which was incredible and meant the Wales U19 international Jonathan Bond came in - but it was even more incredible to see him injured prompting Gianfranco Zola to throw on 19-year-old Jack Bonham. A hat-trick of keepers? You couldn't script it.

Bonham ended up conceding the late goal that he would probably save 99 times out of 100. He lost his geography as he wandered to the edge of the penalty area and jumped too early for a ball that should have been meat and drink for him. It's going to be very interesting to see how they respond after that.

However, I still fancy Watford. They've scored 85 goals this season, which shows you what they're all about. They play with a wild abandon, a lovely fluency and a bravery on the ball. Up front they will play Matěj Vydra - a wonderful goalscorer with pace and the ability to stretch teams - and Fernando Forestieri - a Zola-ish magician who drops into the hole and runs at people. I also like Almen Abdi, who is a bit of an unsung hero yet has come up with important goals.

I don't think this Watford team will suffer after the defeat by Leeds because Gianfranco is such a positive character. In the 26 previous play-offs the team that has finished third has got to the final 13 times and won it nine times, so history favours them.

So for me, Watford go into the game as favourites. I know the bookmakers have gone for Leicester, but the resources in Zola's squad and the negativity that often surrounds Leicester may see them through.

It's a very finely balanced tie and I think it will be won in the home legs. Watford have struggled at home and Leicester have had problems at the King Power. I fancied them to win at Forest away from the negativity of their own stadium, but now the pressure mounts again.

Can Leicester get a lead to take to Watford? Can they stop their opponents scoring? On both accounts I think the answer is no. I think Watford will get a goal and at least a draw. Cracks have been appearing in the Leicester defence and they've left gaps as they've chased games.

Leicester still have some fine individuals, but the weight of expectation that has hindered them in their promotion push might be too inhibiting for them.

I think Watford will just about scrape through by a small margin in a goal-fest over two legs.

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Readers' Comments

C

lassic management. Build them up and then knock them back. Raise expectations and then dampen them. Create a dynamic where by you demand the most from your team, but where the team are given room to manoeuvre unexpected or unwanted results. Classy work by Van Gaal, he really reminds me a lot of me. A smart cookie, make no doubt.

hump3.
Van Gaal: 'I struggle for first three months'

H

e will be the England left back for ten years or more, and then you will have to thank MUFC for that. *smiles*

london saint
Shaw: Criticism spot on

P

urely because of that little diva moment he had last night, I don't want him coming to my club. DESTROYED ? Grow up and give something back to the club that helped put you up there on the world stage.

bale doubt
Saints' Schneiderlin stalemate

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