Before the season began Adrian Boothroyd was asked by the Watford board where he saw himself come this month. "On an open-top bus," came his reply. Well, that heady moment has arrived. One of the most extraordinary, unexpected, unpredicted promotions in recent memory was completed here yesterday when Watford defeated Leeds United to arrive in the Premiership for the first time since 1999. A £40m holy grail, a promised land of wild riches and even wilder hopes and dreams, has been reached. It is richly deserved too. The Hornets are buzzing.
The scale of Boothroyd's achievement is hard to over-estimate. This is a club who finished just two points above relegation last season, who cleared out much of their squad and who had a manager about whom most people asked, "Adrian who?" Now they know.
Boothroyd has just completed his first season in charge. Anywhere. He is no cheeky chappy and - perhaps - no one-term wonder. Fans joke that the Bradford-born manager is the northern Mourinho. Why not? Even Jose would be impressed by this one and Boothroyd, still only 35, shows the same ruthless singularity as the Special One. They will, amazingly, meet soon enough.
It was a game steeped with stories. Jay DeMerit scored the first goal. An engaging 26-year-old from Chicago he was, until recently, playing college football in America and started last year a reject on trial in non-league football. Then there is his defensive partner Malky Mackay, the veteran who has earned three promotions to the Premiership but has yet to play there. West Ham and Norwich City jettisoned the Scot before he had a chance. "He's staying," Boothroyd promised.
And there is Boothroyd himself. For eight months he was No 3 - not even deputy - to Leeds' manager, Kevin Blackwell, before being plucked by Watford, while his own playing career was ended, 10 years ago, when Shaun Derry broke his leg in a tackle. Derry was a loser yesterday, conceding the penalty for Watford's third goal but also coming closest for his side with a header which struck the post and, before that, a shot inside the first 10 minutes which billowed the side-netting.
The depth of Leeds' disappointment is hard to gauge. They have plunged far further than this, with relegation and financial implosion, but to have come so close after dragging themselves back from the brink will be hard to stomach. They will take heart from the travails of others who have been this far before, only to come again.
But although the debts have been vastly reduced, the parachute payments have now also gone. The club's chairman, Ken Bates, will ponder hard. He tried to rally the players later but, before that, sitting 10 rows in front of Bates in the royal box, was Leeds' former chief executive Peter Ridsdale, now of Cardiff City. He tried to live the dream, but the nightmare continues.
For Leeds the weight of expectation was simply too heavy. They were slow to emerge and barely threatened. In the showpiece they were let down by the set piece. Watford, far more raw and direct and far quicker, pushed them back and pressed hard when they won a throw-in, always taken by Gavin Mahon, or a free-kick or corner at the feet of the precociously exciting Ashley Young.
Boothroyd sensed a weakness at the heart of Leeds' defence, where Sean Gregan floundered and Paul Butler looked the half-fit player he is, and probed it mercilessly by making them turn. A warning came inside two minutes when Butler, desperately, headed over his own crossbar under pressure from the brooding aggression of Darius Henderson. It went unheeded.
On 25 minutes there was another corner and another Watford player flung himself at it. This time DeMerit's header thumped into the net. His marker, Rob Hulse, stood rooted with his head in his hands.
There was some hope for Leeds in the obvious nerves of Watford's young goalkeeper Ben Foster, on loan from Manchester United, who struggled to clear his lines. But it was Neil Sullivan for Leeds who suffered, tipping over from Henderson's rising drive but then being beaten again as his defence failed to clear another of Mahon's throw-ins.
The ball fell to James Chambers, who made space before striking a shot which spun off Eddie Lewis, struck a post and appeared to be bouncing out. It hit Sullivan on the back and trickled into the net for an own goal.
Leeds, finally, threatened. But it was more manic than measured and as Blackwell threw on striker after striker they were caught out. A rapid break released the tireless Marlon King and he cut back across Derry, who caught him. Henderson's penalty was low and true and the contest was over.
For Watford, and for Boothroyd, the open-top bus is booked for the town centre tomorrow. Where this journey eventually ends no one knows. They will be favourites for relegation but, as Boothroyd pointed out, they were last August also.
Leeds United (4-5-1): Sullivan; Kelly, Gregan (Bakke, 85), Butler, Kilgallon; Richardson (Blake, h-t), Miller (Healy, 62), Derry, Douglas, Lewis; Hulse. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Stone.
Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Doyley, Mackay, DeMerit, Stewart; Chambers (Bangura, 73) Spring, Mahon, Young; Henderson, King. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Eagles, Bouazza, Mariappa.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Booked: Leeds United Gregan, Miller, Derry; Watford Spring, Doyley.
Man of the match: DeMerit.Reuse content