Hornets still buzzing?
Chris Burton reflects on how Watford made the Championship play-off final and profiles one of those hoping to spearhead the Hornets' promotion push.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 26/05/13 12:36pm
Few expected Watford to be among the Championship frontrunners at the start of the season, with another summer of change at Vicarage Road suggesting that it might take a while for everything to click.
The potential was clear for all to see, with ambitious owners turning to Gianfranco Zola in an effort to raise the profile of the club and attract top talent. Zola was, however, drafted in with no prior experience of life in the Championship, as a player or coach. He, along with a number of new recruits, was charged with the task of learning as he went along. The Italian has proven to be a quick learner, with Watford recovering from a slow start to steadily climb the second tier standings.
From sitting just above the drop zone in mid-September, they hit the top six in early December. They would remain inside the promotion-chasing pack for the remainder of the campaign, with a top-two standing enjoyed at one stage. They were unable to cling on to that lofty perch, though, and ended up missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season - with a 2-1 defeat to Leeds United dashing their dreams.
Zola has been able to pick his players up from that disappointment and have them ready to go again. Play-off semi-final opponents Leicester City slipped in via the back door and were full of confidence heading into a two-legged tie, but the Hornets wrapped up a 3-2 aggregate success in the most dramatic of fashions.
History suggests that the side finishing third in the regular season ends up running out of gas when the play-off chase starts - with only 10 sides having secured promotion in the last 26 years - but five of the last seven Wembley winners have come from that position.
Danger man - Matej Vydra
It is fair to assume that most Watford fans had heard little about Vydra when he was drafted into the Vicarage Road ranks last summer.
Among those to take advantage of the Pozzo family links at Udinese, the Czech forward arrived in English football with little senior experience at the top level of which to speak. He is, however, only 21 years of age and needed someone to offer him a stage on which to shine. Watford have provided that platform, sat back and lapped up what he has to offer.
Vydra has been a revelation for the Hornets this term, plundering 20 goals in Championship competition to be named second tier Player of the Year. His efforts - which have included six braces - took Watford agonisingly close to automatic promotion, but they are now looking for him to spearhead a play-off push.
There was plenty of pressure on Vydra to deliver the goods ahead of a semi-final meeting with Leicester, but he has shown enough this season to suggest that he is not one to hide when the going gets tough and stepped up to the plate in spectacular style against the Foxes by netting a crucial second leg brace.
Various reports have claimed that he could be turning out in the Premier League next season regardless of how Watford fare in the promotion lottery, with his exploits having been noted higher up the football food chain.
Watford will, of course, be hoping to see him back at Vicarage Road next season, but he remains under contract at Udinese and they may have to go up in order to get a deal done and fend off interest from elsewhere. For now, though, Vydra's focus is locked purely on a day out at Wembley and the Premier League Promised Land - which is now well within reach.
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Manager view - Gianfranco Zola
"Wembley has always been good to me and I hope that continues. When you talk about Wembley, you are talking about one of the temples of the game.
"I hope I can bring some good luck to my team as well. We have done well to reach Wembley, but it's not the end of the story yet."
Fancy a flutter?
After edging out Leicester to keep themselves in promotion contention, Watford are now strong favourites at 8/11 to make the step up into the Premier League.
They are 11/8 to claim victory over Crystal Palace in 90 minutes, while they can be taken at 10/1 to win in extra-time and 11/1 to prevail on penalties.
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