Wolverhampton Wanderers faced off against Watford on Sunday in an FA Cup semi-final that encapsulated everything special about the competition.
The FA Cup had been Wolves playing round this season, emphatically knocking out Liverpool and Manchester United on the road to Wembley, but Watford proved to be a bridge too far.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men took the advantage through the increasingly impressive Matt Doherty who was well positioned to slam home a header from a well-placed Diogo Jota cross – the Portuguese showing his traits as a big game player once again.
Wolves had their captain to thank for maintaining their lead on the stroke of halftime. Andre Gray’s shot looked like it was going to equalise for the Hornets, but the goal-bound effort was denied by the face of Conor Coady, whose incredibly bravery summed up the immense team spirit among the players.
On the hour-mark we were all treated to something rather special from record signing Raul Jimenez, who has recently made his switch from Benfica permanent (as per BBC Sport). Doherty pinged a ball to the Mexican who cushioned the ball onto his chest, pirouetted around in the area and smashed a volley into the back of the net sending the Wolves end into raptures.
It should have been game over at this point, but Watford, realising they were letting a golden opportunity slip through their fingers, started to turn the screw. And, with just 11 minutes of regulation time to go, it was game on when substitute Gerard Deulofeu caressed the most sumptuous curled chip into the top corner. Pressure mounting.
One final twist came at the end of the game for Wolves.
Gung-ho crosses are never easy to deal with, especially with the like of Troy Deeney throwing his weight around, and after raining balls down upon their opponent’s area, Watford were handed a golden opportunity when their captain was clipped inside the box by the overzealous Dendoncker.
VAR called into action, penalty awarded, Deeney slammed home to make it 2-2. Heartbreak for Wolves.
Wolves may have started on the front foot in extra time, but it was Watford who would take the lead, that man Deulofeu again slipping it beyond the reaches of John Ruddy.
Jimenez and Ivan Cavaleiro both had immense chances to rescue the game, the latter fumbling his effort in front of goal after doing all the hard work in rolling the ball past the keeper. It just wasn’t to be their day, however, and Wolves were beaten.
It’s hard to criticise a side who captured the hearts of the nation on route to Wembley and who, until the very last moments, were coasting towards the final. The player ratings could have been so different.
Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu grabbed the Man of the Match award for good reason, but we’d like to extend our credit to the sensational Diogo Jota.
When you think ‘big game player’ the name Jota tends to skip to the forefront of your mind. Quick, brave, industrious and loaded with ability – what a talent this man is.
The Portuguese star was unrelenting throughout the match, pressing high, sitting back and waiting to spring the counter-attack, turning defenders inside out at every opportunity. If a wasp could play football, then it would resemble Jota.
An assist was the least he deserved.
Wolves fans, is Diogo Jota the ultimate big game player? Let us know in the comments below…