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Matt Holland's Blog 39

15 May 2013

When I watched Doncaster Rovers score a goal that made them champions, just seconds after Brentford had missed a penalty at the other end which would of sealed promotion a week or two back, I genuinely thought to myself , 'I'll never see anything like that again'.

Well, blow me. I sat there in pure disbelief when the extraordinary dying moments of Watford versus Leicester City unfolded before our very eyes in an almost identical situation on Sunday afternoon.

This time the villain of the piece was Foxes winger Anthony Knockaert, missing an injury-time spot-kick that would have taken his team to Wembley, while Troy Deeney became the ultimate hero just seconds later when sending Watford through with the most dramatic of volleys.

Sometimes football is just brilliant, isn't it?

The Play-Offs are beautiful. So often we're treated to absolute classics, and that tie in Hertfordshire will surely go down as one of the all-time greats. The goals and the script were just sensational.

I've been there as a losing team in the Play-Off semis with Ipswich Town, and the dressing room is a desolate place afterwards. We lost three in a row, one of which was at home to Bolton Wanderers when, despite a superb 4-3 win on the night, we lost out on away goals.

I'd scored twice, as had Kieron Dyer, but despite the win all of us were just inconsolable afterwards. I remember the manager thanking us for our efforts over the season, and saying that we did him and the club proud, but those words felt hollow to everyone.

It was quiet, so quiet, and most players were simply too sick about the outcome to contemplate talking. We had no idea what to do with ourselves. It was awful.

That's how it will have felt in the Leicester City changing room on Sunday. I can't imagine how bad Knockaert was feeling, and the others too will have been distraught. It was a very cruel way to lose, not least because seconds before they would have believed they were on their way to Wembley.

That said, you have to congratulate Watford on a splendid turnaround. Gianfranco Zola and his men picked themselves up from the disappointment of their previous two games to produce a famous win.

Those celebrations on the pitch at the final whistle spoke volumes for what it meant to everyone at the club. And after the season they've enjoyed it's hard to begrudge them a place in the final.

Joining them in that shoot-out for a place in the Premier League are Crystal Palace, and not too many people were predicting that before the second leg.

Their form had been poor, they'd just lost top scorer Glenn Murray to a serious injury, and they were up against a Brighton and Hove Albion team that hadn't been beaten at the Amex Stadium since Arsenal knocked them out of the FA Cup.

Everything, logically, told you to expect a Seagulls success.

However, Eagles forward Wilfried Zaha and manager Ian Holloway ended up making the difference.

After a barren run, Zaha lifted his game just when Palace needed it most, and in a match of fine margins, his sheer talent helped put his side through. On the pitch, he was the key man.

On the sidelines, you have to applaud Ian Holloway for producing yet more Play-Off glory. His team were magnificent at the back, and extremely disciplined over the course of the 180 minutes, and he has to take a lot of the credit for that.

I wonder if his excellent record in Play-Off football helped convince his players to trust him in this tie. He was more than likely very relaxed in the dressing room and as a former player I can see why his team might have been lifted by the fact they knew, that he knew, what he was doing.

For the losers Brighton, they simply have to pick themselves up and start again. They've made tremendous progress in recent seasons and I can envisage that continuing next term.

Manager Gus Poyet's public reaction to the defeat was a bit puzzling though. It was almost as if he was quitting there and then, as he explained how he needed to contemplate his own future in light of the loss.

If your team has just lost a big game like that, you expect the gaffer to say, 'we'll be back next year stronger than ever,' but the Uruguayan did just about the opposite - hinting that it may be time for him to leave.

I know he's a great coach, and somebody that's openly ambitious, but unless Poyet has an offer to manage in the Premier League, I'd think twice about leaving Brighton. They're a club that's going places.

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