‘Act of defiance’ – Watford ace lauded by journalists as Gracia shows his class

Watford are a side with a stark history of staging dramatic comebacks to triumph in the face of adversity, but even the most optimistic of fans would have been struggling to see a way back for their side at 2-0 down on Sunday.

Wolves were largely fancied by the British media in the pre-match buildup, with their convincing giant-killing of Manchester United in the quarter-final lending reason to believe that a place in the final was beckoning.

But the impact of Gerard Deulofeu from the substitutes bench saw the Hornets stage a historic comeback at Wembley to book their place in the final against Manchester City next month.

The diminutive Spaniard dominated the post-match headlines after scoring a sensational goal to half the deficit before landing the decisive knockout blow in extra-time.

It was the type of cameo performance which naturally evokes interest from journalists and pundits worldwide and, with that in mind, Football FanCast have rounded up a selection of the reaction to the 25-year-old’s deadly impact on the big stage…

Simon Burnton – The Guardian

Simon Burnton of The Guardian drew comparisons with Deulofeu’s first strike of the game and the subtle yet exquisitely intricate motion of a spin bowler.

Just like fans of Australian cricket ritually re-watch videos of bamboozling Shane Warne googlies, Deulofeu’s strike will be replayed by nostalgic Watford fans for decades to come – bowling Gerard!

‘Deulofeu’s first goal, 13 minutes after coming on, was an act of defiance and a thing of beauty, the Spaniard collecting the ball in the area after Romain Saïss headed down a José Holebas long throw, looking up, assessing his options, deciding none of them amounted to much and then flicking his ankle like a cricketing spinner turns his wrist to impart dip and curl on the ball and transform a situation from which little seemed possible into a large stride towards glory.’

Ron Walker – Sky Sports

Sky Sports’ Ron Walker raised a valid point regarding a facet of Deulofeu’s performance which slightly went under the radar within the media storm surrounding his goal scoring exploits.

The former Barcelona prodigy was not only scintillating in the final-third but also a solid defensive pawn.

His devilish charisma in the attacking phase was supplemented with a tireless work-rate and desire to preserve Watford’s defensive shape.

‘The winning goal was meat and drink compared to that strike and while it is unfortunate the substitute had to return to the bench after injuring himself towards the end of extra-time, it summed up his short afternoon that he was hurt tracking back to cut out Ruben Vinagre’s run.’

Phil McNulty – BBC Sport

BBC’s chief football writer, Phil McNulty, left readers with no uncertainty in how highly he regarded the game-changing impact provided by Deulofeu.

The player who once played alongside Lionel Messi in Catalonia was afforded praise of the highest esteem.

McNulty suggested the world’s most gifted footballer of all time would have been watching on with fond admiration when the ball was caressed into John Ruddy’s goal.

‘This maverick 25-year-old, a player of undoubted talent but unfulfilled potential at Barcelona, Everton, Sevilla and AC Milan, chose what looked like Watford’s losing cause to produce a cameo performance as substitute that will write his name into Vicarage Road folklore.

‘Lionel Messi would have appreciated the stroke of genius from his former Nou Camp team-mate that put Watford back in the game after 79 minutes, an astonishing instinctive flick from the angle of the penalty area that sent the ball arcing over Wolves keeper John Ruddy into the top corner.’

The Verdict

The genius behind Deulofeu’s display lay within Gracia’s pre-match decision to omit him from the starting XI. It takes genuine cojones (credit Troy Deeney) to drop a player of his calibre for a high-magnitude fixture, but it was one which ultimately gave Watford’s match-winner the motivation to do something truly special on the big stage.

Not only was this an act of defiance against Wolves’ dream of reaching the final of the FA Cup, this was a rebellion against Gracia’s selection; a reminder to his manager that for however cold he might blow on a Tuesday night against Fulham he can equally blow hot on a Sunday afternoon at the home of English football.

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