Gerard Deulofeu inspired Watford to only their second FA Cup final as the super sub’s magical brace sealed an extraordinary 3-2 comeback win against Wolves in a semi-final that will live long in the memory.
A rocking Wembley witnessed stunning goals, controversy and no little fight as these sides played out an incredible match that was heading only one way after goals from Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez.
But Wolves’ dreams of a first FA Cup final appearance since 1960 was scotched in the most remarkable fashion as Javi Gracia’s decision to bring on Deulofeu paid off in style.
The substitute’s exceptional clipped goal was the catalyst for a staggering finale as Watford captain Troy Deeney levelled with a stoppage-time penalty.
Wolves were reeling and Deulofeu secured his place in club folklore by racing through in the first half of extra-time to coolly direct a finish home and seal a win that left fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
The Hornets had to dig deep as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side pushed for a late leveller, but Gracia’s men held on and will return to Wembley to take on quadruple-chasing Manchester City on May 18.
It is 35 years since Watford’s one and only FA Cup final appearance and the celebrations at the full-time whistle showed just how much it meant to all connected to the club.
It was a frantic ending to a match that Wolves had just about started the brighter, with Jonny bending an effort just wide before Joao Moutinho sent a dipping free-kick onto the roof of the net inside four minutes.
Watford settled into a rhythm after those early scares but struggled to find a chink in the opponents’ defensive armour until the 31st minute, when Andre Gray should have punished his hometown club from Deeney’s cross.
That was a let-off that sparked Wolves into life and four minutes later Leander Dendoncker had the afternoon’s first shot on target, with Heurelho Gomes tipping over his 30-yard effort for what would be a costly corner.
Collecting a short pass back from Moutinho, Diogo Jota curled in a superb left-footed cross that Doherty met unmarked at the far post having lost Abdoulaye Doucoure to head into an empty net.
The Wolves faithful erupted at a goal that Jota went close to adding to in stunning fashion, before their captain Conor Coady threw himself in the way of a stoppage-time strike by Gray to ensure they went in ahead.
The Black Country side kicked on, with Jimenez proving a nuisance and Ruben Neves going close with an audacious free-kick attempt from an acute angle.
Wolves’ second goal felt inevitable and came in the 62nd minute as Jimenez superbly controlled a Doherty cross, before acrobatically firing home and celebrating by putting on a mask made for him by wrestler Sin Cara.
The narrowest of offside calls allowed the goal to stand after a video review, with VAR Graham Scott’s workload soon increasing as two red card decisions were checked in quick succession.
Deulofeu was involved in one of them as he clashed with Moutinho, but he stayed on and the recently-introduced substitute soon lit up Wembley by somehow clipping a curling effort over John Ruddy and into the top corner.
Attack after attack fell flat after that stunning 79th-minute goal and just as all hope looked to have gone Deeney went to the ground in the box under a challenge from Dendoncker and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot.
The Hornets supporters erupted and, after a lengthy wait as the VAR checked the decision, Watford’s captain showed his guts to fire home a spot-kick two minutes into stoppage time.
Wolves goalkeeper Ruddy went close to stopping it, but it mattered not as the match went to extra-time.
Jonny attempted to put Wolves back ahead, but Watford had the bit between their teeth and their fans were in dreamland in the 104th minute.
The Hornets raced forward and Deulofeu linked up with Gray, before the Spaniard flew on, took a touch past Coady and coolly slotted home.
Deulofeu limped off in the second half of extra-time as Jimenez had a half-chance before Ivan Cavaleiro agonisingly got his feet in a muddle after rounding the goalkeeper.
But that was that and Watford had secured their Wembley return.