Watford 3-2 Wolves (AET): Gerard Deulofeu comes off the bench to mastermind comeback win

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He was on for the equivalent of one half, Gerard Deulofeu. Roughly 45 minutes in a game that lasted two hours. Yet in that spell, he transformed the match, sent Watford to the FA Cup final for the first time since 1984, turned Wolves from comfortable winners into wretched losers. 

What a performance it was from the substitute. A wonder goal to bring Watford back into the game, an extra time winner to cap the most remarkable comeback.

Having arrived after 66 minutes, he left injured before the second-half of extra time was complete – but by then he had done more than enough. His winner summed up the extraordinary shift that had taken place, Deulofeu skipping through the midfield, exchanging passes with Andre Gray, Wolves, exhausted, dispirited in his wake.  

Gerard Deulofeu came off the bench to be the matchwinner as his brace ensured an FA Cup final spot against Manchester City

Gerard Deulofeu came off the bench to be the matchwinner as his brace ensured an FA Cup final spot against Manchester City

The former Everton midfielder beat Wolves captain Conor Coady for pace before he held his nerve to slot in the winning goal

The former Everton midfielder beat Wolves captain Conor Coady for pace before he held his nerve to slot in the winning goal

Watford looked set to be beaten in normal time before Troy Deeney stepped up to power home a stoppage time penalty kick

Watford looked set to be beaten in normal time before Troy Deeney stepped up to power home a stoppage time penalty kick

Everything was going to plan for Wolves when striker Raul Jimenez, a masked man in his celebration, scored to make it 2-0

Everything was going to plan for Wolves when striker Raul Jimenez, a masked man in his celebration, scored to make it 2-0

The striker sent the hoards of travelling Wolves supporters into raptures when he was full stretch to score an acrobatic volley

The striker sent the hoards of travelling Wolves supporters into raptures when he was full stretch to score an acrobatic volley

Matt Doherty, a consistent performer in the FA Cup this season, headed Wolves in front after he evaded Watford on a corner

Matt Doherty, a consistent performer in the FA Cup this season, headed Wolves in front after he evaded Watford on a corner

Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves were off by then, and it showed. Wolves looked like beaten men, Deulofeu like he could run forever. The talent has always been there. This, however, must be the career highlight. 

He outstripped Wolves captain Conor Coady and finished smartly. Watford had done it. From, 2-0 down with 11 minutes remaining, they now led. From second best for much of the afternoon, they had crushed Wolves utterly. This was their third shot on target, and a third goal. This was a quite magnificent, gutsy revival.

Maybe one day we will tire of the masks that are becoming an increasing part of goal celebrations. What we will never tire of is the type of goals that brought the second-half of this semi-final into wonderful, vibrant life.

Raul Jimenez was the striker who donned the customised WWE mask to mark what most believed was the goal that sent Wolves into their first FA Cup final since 1960.  

Both sets of supporters travelled to Wembley Stadium in good numbers with hopes of reaching the FA Cup final next month

Both sets of supporters travelled to Wembley Stadium in good numbers with hopes of reaching the FA Cup final next month

England manager Gareth Southgate took his place in the stands to cast his eye over a gaggle of England players on show

England manager Gareth Southgate took his place in the stands to cast his eye over a gaggle of England players on show

Wolves' attacking plan centered around Raul Jimenez who the club recently announced has signed a permanent deal to stay

Wolves’ attacking plan centered around Raul Jimenez who the club recently announced has signed a permanent deal to stay

Joao Moutinho had the first big chance of the game but he could only curl a free-kick over the wall and over the target

Joao Moutinho had the first big chance of the game but he could only curl a free-kick over the wall and over the target 

Watford boss Javi Gracia continued to encourage his side to stick to their principles as they began to get a grip of the game

Watford boss Javi Gracia continued to encourage his side to stick to their principles as they began to get a grip of the game

Deulofeu was the adversary who had other ideas, a brilliant 79th minute rejoinder leaving Nuno Espirito Santo’s team clinging onto their lead for dear life, in front of their equally nerve wracked travelling fans. 

They took up half the stadium but, outside, it seemed like more. The entire city appeared to have decamped to the capital for the weekend, they made that much noise – and Watford’s loyalists were not far behind. It was a magnificent atmosphere and, eventually, a game to match. 

The first 45 minutes were unexceptional but the goals in the second-half encapsulated the leap in quality – as did the drama at the end.

Goals first. The one that looked to have won it was a peach, and rather fitting to be scored by a Mexican, as Jimenez’s take reminded of nothing more than Gerd Muller against England in Guadalajara in 1970. The same volley, sideways, falling away, with only the goalkeeper to beat. Jimenez did more to make it than Muller, mind – taking Matt Doherty’s cross on his chest sublimely, before letting the ball drop to his shooting foot.

He scampered behind the goal and put on what WWE aficionados will recognise as a Sin Cara mask, except this one had been specially designed to include what looked like the Wolves logo. At which point, referee Michael Oliver signalled that VAR was checking for fouls and offside. Oops. Jimenez would have looked a little foolish in costume with the referee signalling a free-kick to Watford. VAR saw no shadows, however, and the goal stood. 

MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE 

Watford XI: Gomes, Femenia (Janmaat 109), Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas (Masina 98), Hughes (Deulofeu 66, (Kabasele 113), Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Deeney, Gray 

Subs not used: Foster, Kabasele, Quina, Sema

Goals: Deulofeu (79, 104), Deeney (90+4) 

Booked: Cathcart, Holebas, Capoue 

Manager: Javi Gracia 

Wolves XI: Ruddy, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Jonny, Doherty, Neves (Bennett 86), Dendoncker, Moutinho (Traore 101), Jota (Cavaleiro 89), Jimenez 

Subs not used: Norris, Costa, Gibbs-White, Vinagre

Goals: Doherty (36), Jimenez (62)

Booked: Saiss, Neves

Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo 

Referee: Michael Oliver

Attendance: 80,092

This is the moment Matt Doherty broke the deadlock for Wolves with a header at the back post. CLICK HERE to take a look at our brilliant MATCH ZONE service.

This is the moment Matt Doherty broke the deadlock for Wolves with a header at the back post. CLICK HERE to take a look at our brilliant MATCH ZONE service. 

Roberto Pereyra looked lively and found himself watched closely by Wolves defender Doherty as the game was closely fought

Roberto Pereyra looked lively and found himself watched closely by Wolves defender Doherty as the game was closely fought

The Hornets improved massively after Moutinho's early effort and should have taken the lead when Andre Gray met a cross

The Hornets improved massively after Moutinho’s early effort and should have taken the lead when Andre Gray met a cross

Gray's close-range miss was a let-off and there was plenty for Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo to be concerned with

Gray’s close-range miss was a let-off and there was plenty for Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo to be concerned with

While Watford dominated, Wolves took the lead after a well-worked corner routine found Doherty at the back post to head in

While Watford dominated, Wolves took the lead after a well-worked corner routine found Doherty at the back post to head in

The defender has impressed this season and has more goals in the FA Cup this season than he does in the Premier League

The defender has impressed this season and has more goals in the FA Cup this season than he does in the Premier League

Wolves, it seemed, were going to Wembley – or coming back to Wembley, the Football Association have removed the uniqueness from that journey. Watford had been largely unimpressive. At that point, charged with the consequences of inaction, they sprang into life. 

Suddenly, Wolves were under siege. Javi Gracia also introduced Deulofeu to find their weaknesses, and his brilliance turned the 90 minutes.

Watford were camped in an around Watford’s penalty area when the ball fell to Deulofeu on the left. Tight angle, 12 yards out but he tamed the challenge stunningly. A curled chip, up and over the crowded area, out of reach of a despairing John Ruddy, in at the far post. Deulofeu’s Catalan heritage is appropriate, because it was the sort of goal one could imagine Lionel Messi scoring; he probably has.

From there, Wolves had to hold their nerve, see out normal time; breathe again. They couldn’t. 

Leander Dendoncker dived in on Troy Deeney, Oliver gave the penalty, VAR agreed. Deeney stepped up and lashed it left. Ruddy guessed correctly but went too soon. The shot was straighter than he imagined and he could not correct. Jimenez may have worn a mask, but it was Watford making out like bandits. 

It was a crucial moment for Wolves having been under intense pressure and it turned the tide, giving them a real advantage

It was a crucial moment for Wolves having been under intense pressure and it turned the tide, giving them a real advantage

Doherty's goal rocked Watford as they were left to rue missed opportunities as they faced an uphill battle to reach the final

Doherty’s goal rocked Watford as they were left to rue missed opportunities as they faced an uphill battle to reach the final

There were wild celebrations in the Wolverhampton Wanderers end of Wembley having seen Doherty edge them in front

There were wild celebrations in the Wolverhampton Wanderers end of Wembley having seen Doherty edge them in front

That opening goal lifted Wolves and they looked to build on that when Diogo Jota took aim from distance but was just wide

That opening goal lifted Wolves and they looked to build on that when Diogo Jota took aim from distance but was just wide

Wolves emerged for the second half determined to take the game away from Watford as Jimenez was close to a second goal

Wolves emerged for the second half determined to take the game away from Watford as Jimenez was close to a second goal

It was a noisy, colourful event, and a pity that for long spells of the first-half the action did not live up to that. Wolves started brightest, surrendered the initiative to Watford, took the lead and almost let Javi Gracia’s team back in before half-time.

Wolves looked the better team, with a shape and pattern that is instantly recognisable, but Watford forced the best chances of the first-half, both missed by Andre Gray. The first came after 31 minutes, a fine ball in from Troy Deeney, Gray played onside by Wolves captain Conor Coady before volleying over. 

For the next, in injury time, it was Coady who saved the day. A lofted forward pass was delivered by Will Hughes, the troublesome Deeney got a headed flick on and Gray was free, the goal at his mercy. He took it first time and Coady threw himself at the ball, in the manner of John Terry in his pomp. 

After he lay flat out, before springing to his feet. He had conceded a corner, but kept Wolves in the ascendancy. 

Having missed an earlier effort, Jimenez made no mistake second time round as he made it 2-0 with an acrobatic volley

Having missed an earlier effort, Jimenez made no mistake second time round as he made it 2-0 with an acrobatic volley

Watford's lifeline came off the bench as Deulofeu produced a sensational strike to get their supporters believing once again

Watford’s lifeline came off the bench as Deulofeu produced a sensational strike to get their supporters believing once again

The substitute, with little back-lift, caressed an incredible effort into the top corner with Wolves only able to watch it go in

The substitute, with little back-lift, caressed an incredible effort into the top corner with Wolves only able to watch it go in

With seconds left in the four minutes of stoppage time there was late drama as Leander Dendonker brought Deeney down

With seconds left in the four minutes of stoppage time there was late drama as Leander Dendonker brought Deeney down

Referee Michael Oliver had no doubt in his mind as he pointed to the penalty spot before it was double-checked with VAR

Referee Michael Oliver had no doubt in his mind as he pointed to the penalty spot before it was double-checked with VAR

They just about shaded the first-half despite Gray’s chances, putting pressure on Watford inside the first minute when Jonny’s chip flew narrowly wide of the far post. Soon after, a free-kick from Joao Moutinho dipped late and landed on the roof of the net. 

Dendoncker also fancied his chances from range, a 30-yard shot coming closer than many imagined when he took the decision to go it alone. Diogo Jota also tried to test Heurelho Gomes after cutting inside, but could not find his range.

It left a set piece and a Matt Doherty header separating the teams – but the move, like so much of what Wolves do, was perfectly executed. 

Moutinho took a short corner to Jota, who shaped as if he was going to return the pass but instead changed the angle of delivery. Wolves’ players arrived late, in a stampede, at the far post, and Doherty was unmarked, dropping his head to power the ball past the helpless Gomes.

The experienced Watford striker assumed responsibility in a huge moment in the context of the game as he powered it home

The experienced Watford striker assumed responsibility in a huge moment in the context of the game as he powered it home

Scored in front of the Watford supporters, Wembley erupted at one end as Deeney had forced the game into extra-time

Scored in front of the Watford supporters, Wembley erupted at one end as Deeney had forced the game into extra-time

Wolves captain Conor Coady could not believe the game slipped away from his side with just seconds left on the clock

Wolves captain Conor Coady could not believe the game slipped away from his side with just seconds left on the clock

Watford continued to take the game to Wolves and were rewarded when Deulofeu got his second as he slotted into the corner

Watford continued to take the game to Wolves and were rewarded when Deulofeu got his second as he slotted into the corner

The former Barcelona attacker was a surprise omission from the start but was the star of the show come the final whistle

The former Barcelona attacker was a surprise omission from the start but was the star of the show come the final whistle

 



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