Gianfranco Zola has revealed that referee Michael Oliver apologised to him for awarding a penalty that should not have been given in Watford's play-off semi-final against Leicester in 2013.

The Italian coach was in charge of the Hornets as they pushed for promotion to the Premier League and, speaking on the club's official podcast, claimed he almost had a heart attack when the referee pointed to the spot in the dying moments of the game against the Foxes.

However, fortune favoured Watford on the day and what followed was a sensational ending to the match that sent the Hornets to Wembley for the play-off final.

After a double save from Manuel Almunia, the home side mustered all their remaining energy to stride down the field, before Jonathan Hogg's knock down was emphatically lashed home by Troy Deeney.

“I remember that I turned to the bench [after the penalty was awarded] and I think I spoke and said ‘I can’t believe what he’s done’,” said Zola.

“Last year Oliver apologised to me before a match, I can’t remember what match, but he came to me and said, ‘I must apologise to you, you are right, and it wasn’t a penalty’. In that moment [in 2013] I felt very close to having a heart attack but, in the end, it came up in a perfect way.”

Zola believes that goal was a product of the fearlessness of his young squad and that without such self-belief, his team could never have created such a thrilling moment.

“That is the magic of the young players, sometimes they can produce something incredible like in that day,” he said.

“They have the crazy minds that can make you think things that for other people is difficult – Ikechi with the control, Forestieri and everyone else – that is the biggest quality of the team. When they were playing with that type of freedom, that mentality and mindset, they were really difficult to stop.

“That team needed that type of mindset. We had a lot of players who needed to be like that and have that frame of mind to perform the best. Chalobah, Abdi, also Forestieri , Vydra, Troy, they needed to have that state of mind to know how to give their best. I remember when I was at my best I was like that, I wasn’t afraid of anything, I wasn’t thinking of anything, I was just thinking of enjoying myself. I think that was necessary to give the best, and in that game we had it.”

Ultimately, though, Zola's side would fail to overcome the final hurdle, losing to Crystal Palace in the play-off final.

Reflecting, the Italian thinks perhaps the club might have been a little overzealous with their celebrations after the Leicester game, but still has fond memories of a "magical" afternoon at Vicarage Road.

“Probably we over-celebrated, we came on the pitch and then we went out,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about that and you don’t know whether it was right to do that or wrong to do that. But football is about expressing yourself and expressing your emotion, and that day was magical, and I think it will be remembered for a long time.”