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Manuel Almunia’s Play-Off Semi-Final penalty save

21 July 2021

THAT penalty save. That goal. Those 22 seconds. The names of Manuel Almunia and Troy Deeney will be forever entwined in EFL Play-Offs history.

All because of that save. And whilst you may not be saving penalties like Almunia, you could still save like a pro in your home. And a smart meter and accompanying in-home display can help. The in-home display allows you to have more information about your energy usage. This could help you to work out how to save energy around your home, for example by switching of lights when not in use.

Now more about that save…

With 95 minutes played of a pulsating Championship Play-Off Semi-Final second leg at Vicarage Road in May 2013, Watford led Leicester City 2-1. The scores were level on aggregate and extra-time was imminent.

Then Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert drove into the Watford area and fell to the ground under the touch of Marco Cassetti. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and suddenly Almunia was all that stood between Leicester and Wembley.

The Spaniard had moved to Vicarage Road from Arsenal the previous summer after a career packed with loan moves and too many matchdays spent on the substitutes bench. Seven days before he turned 36, the Semi-Final was his 40th match of the season, a career high.

Watford and the club’s supporters had embraced him and now came his moment to thank them in the best way possible.

“I have enjoyed this season so much in this fantastic club with all its lovely people,” said Almunia in the tunnel after the game.

“It feels so familiar. I see many children in the crowd behind the goal at every home game. That means it is a family club, very warm.

“The people here don’t ask for too many things. They don’t ask for promotion from the start of the season. They don’t ask for the Play-Offs. People come here to enjoy it. They only ask for honesty in the players and when it’s like that, players give everything they have.”

Almunia knew he had to give everything at that moment. He looked into Knockaert’s eyes as the Frenchman lined up his penalty. He dived as the spot-kick was struck, sensing that Knockaert was sending the ball to his left.

The penalty was a poor one and it was more in the centre of the goal than the corner, so Almunia’s block was with his ankles, which meant that the ball rebounded to Knockaert.

Another save was required from the Watford keeper. Somehow contorting his body to his right as he sprang to his feet, Almunia used his chest to stop the follow-up.

This time the ball squirmed out to Cassetti, who hacked a clearance high into the lunchtime sky. As it fell, Ikechi Anya’s control was divine as sprinted with it into the Leicester half before slipping it out to Fernando Forestieri. The Italian’s deep cross found Jonathan Hogg at the far post. He nodded it down into the path of the onrushing Deeney.

Deeney adjusted his feet using the stutter steps he had been coached in by Watford’s manager Gianfranco Zola to help cure his tendency to slash wildly at shots.

His aim was true. Deeney’s shot found the Leicester net and 22 seconds on from an almost certain 3-2 aggregate defeat, Watford had won by the same scoreline and were going to Wembley themselves.

At the other end of the pitch, amid the ensuing pandemonium and joyous pitch invasion, Almunia took it all in even as he was engulfed by delirious Watford fans.

“It is the kind of game you always dream to live and dream to be there. Sometimes we are lucky to be on the pitch,” added Almunia.

“I live in football for today, for moments like this. I just tried to save the penalty because I knew we could still push hard to score a goal.

“I was lucky. I didn’t think it was a penalty. In my view it wasn’t very clear. But I believe that the penalty is the reason that we scored.”

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