Anthony Knockaert

Remembering When Knockaert & City Defied Their Watford Demons

Football often projects contrasting emotions to a mass audience, but even by its usual standards, the footage beamed around the world from Vicarage Road on 12 May, 2013 was dramatic.
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It was the second leg of the Championship Play-Offs Semi-Finals and, with the scores locked at 2-2 on aggregate, visiting Leicester City were awarded a last-gasp penalty against Watford.

The Foxes had won the first leg 1-0 at King Power Stadium, courtesy of David Nugent's solitary strike, before finding themselves 2-1 behind in Hertfordshire, despite another smart Nugent effort.

A brace from Matej Vydra may have given the Hornets a lead on the day, but with the aggregate score being level, Anthony Knockaert's 90th-minute spot-kick, if scored, would have sent City to Wembley.

There was debate over the legitimacy of the decision, with the home side feeling harshly treated after Marco Cassetti was punished for a foul on Knockaert himself by referee Michael Oliver.

Few could have predicted what was about to follow, though, as home goalkeeper Manuel Almunia first saved Knockaert's penalty before smothering the rebound - and then Watford broke on the counter.

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Anthony Knockaert
Anthony Knockaert

Anthony Knockaert gestures to the Foxes faithful at full-time.

Leicester's fans were cursing their luck as extra-time and penalties awaited, but the commentary available on Sky Sports told a different tale as the nightmare deepened for the travelling Blue Army.

"Absolutely astonishing!" roared Sky's anchor that day. "Now, here come Watford. Forestieri... here's Hogg... Deeney! Do not scratch your eyes! You are really seeing the most extraordinary finish here!"

Despite being so close to a Wembley final, it was Watford who booked their place in the showpiece event, after remarkably rushing up the other end and scoring a dramatic last-minute winner.

The scenes which followed, before the referee's full-time whistle, saw hundreds of delirious Hornets fans rush onto the field, as the cameras focused in on a distraught Knockaert.

As Leicester came to terms with the events of that afternoon in Watford, manager Nigel Pearson built the foundations on a promotion bid which would bypass the necessity for play-offs.  

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Chris Wood
Chris Wood

The match got off to a bizarre start as Chris Wood inadvertently put City ahead.

By the time the Foxes were back in Hertfordshire, the following season, Pearson's men had won nine of their opening 13 fixtures and occupied a place in the Championship's top two places.

Naturally, the pre-match conversation centred on the events of that May day in Watford, but Pearson nonetheless entrusted Knockaert - a major character in that particular drama - with a starting place.

Whether or not Leicester's players allowed the subtext to influence their preparations, it was a talking point, but it was quickly replaced by a new story on 2 November 2013, as City's promotion big gathered speed.

A freak goal from Chris Wood gave Leicester the lead early on before destiny stepped in to play a considerable role in proceedings, laying it up perfectly for Knockaert to defy his demons at Vicarage Road.

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Anthony Knockaert
Anthony Knockaert

Anthony Knockaert toasts the support of the Blue Army.

His riffled finish after the interval was a cathartic moment, both individually and collectively, before Lloyd Dyer's left-footed finish late on wrapped up a hard-earned victory for the flying Foxes.

Demons were buried in some style as City used a terrible experience seven months previously to galvanise themselves towards a greater achievement - automatic promotion from the Championship.

"The win was underpinned by the team's performance," Pearson said at full-time. "We always looked dangerous, I thought we counter-attacked particularly well but this year our ball management has been a lot better than last season. We're doing okay at the moment and the players have continued to put an awful lot of commitment into the season so far."

It turned out to be just one of 31 league victories for Pearson's men that season as the Foxes accumulated a stunning 102 points to finally end their 10-year exile from the Premier League.

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