THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Clubs meet in Championship play-offs

icon champ9 May ~ Hello again Leicester City. Only last week we Watford fans were bidding you farewell. Nathaniel Chalobah's goal of the century would probably still be heading towards Hinckley now if the net hadn't got in the way. It was a night when we partied in expectation of a final day surge to promotion as the Leicester players, accompanied by a posse of their offspring, performed a lap of honour in front of emptying seats and discarded clap-banners. They seemed to have surrendered even a play-off place.

Instead, after a brutally disappointing last day when we lost two goalkeepers we may have back tonight, while the Foxes dodged yet another bullet to win their game of play-off Russian roulette at Nottingham Forest, we play each other again. Given the collective adrenaline expended just five days ago, it's hard to see beyond a cagey first leg of this play-off semi-final.

This Leicester team encompasses both expensively assembled underachievement and a strong-willed pressing style. But they will surely be wary of our much-vaunted ability to punish teams on the break, even with spearhead Matej Vydra suffering a Championship Player of the Season hangover. The 2012-13 Hornets are an attractive but fragile team.

We will need to replace the ball-minding skills of Troy Deeney, sent off in the last league game, and assemble a workable combination of fit defenders plus goalkeeper. But that is perhaps less important than manager Gianfranco Zola's ability to re-establish a collective belief in the fantasy-football-madness that has become our method.

Loved by Watford fans, Zola's responsibility for this extraordinary season is still up for debate. Have we just bought and borrowed some very good players? Was taking "just" two months to get them into a workable formation a fortnight too long, costing us automatic promotion? Squad rotation has inspired one week and disrupted the next.

But when you see Lloyd Doyley threading flicked passes inside a full-back you know Zola's finest achievement has been to give every player the confidence to play without fear and take the training ground on to the pitch. With a task of fixing tired minds and legs, the successful application of that talent will determine whether the rollercoaster heads up again. Chris Stride

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