The FA Cup has still got it. Try as some might to kill it off and downgrade its significance, Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers produced a classic Wembley semi-final as a reminder that this great old competition can still touch all the sport’s senses.
Watford’s remarkable victory that confirmed their return to meet Manchester City in their first final since 1984 on 18 May, had all the classic FA Cup ingredients.
Manchester City’s win over Brighton on Saturday was a low-key affair, played out against the backdrop of empty seats and an atmosphere far removed from what these occasions should be and used to be.
Fast forward 24 hours and Wembley was a packed house, a cascade of colour dressed in the yellow of Watford and the old gold of Wolves – and playing host to a thriller that can take its place alongside the great FA Cup games.
It was a tale that had a hero, heartbreak, glory, regret and a grandstand finish that tested the nerves of managers, players and supporters to the limit.
The story unfolded in front of supporters who packed Wembley Way in their colourful thousands hours before kick-off, giving the occasion the feel of an old-school final in all but name.
Wolves were narrow favourites in what was almost a 50-50 contest and it looked like Watford would be the team wondering what might have been as goals either side of half-time by Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez gave Nuno Espirito Santo’s side total control.
The Mexico striker, whose £30m move from Benfica was confirmed days before this semi-final, celebrated lavishly by donning a wrestling mask placed behind the goal that was sent to him by his friend, WWE superstar Sin Cara.
Nuno reacted joyously and the Wolves fans, here in vast numbers, were looking ahead to this great old club’s first FA Cup Final since May 1960, when Blackburn Rovers were beaten 3-0.