FA Cup Quarter Final, 14/3/87
Team: Coton, Gibbs, Rostron, Sims, McClelland, Bardsley, Blissett, Barnes, Falco, Porter, Richardson
Scorers: Blissett, Barnes, Blissett
Report by Tim Lattimer
Oh, what a game. There were many highlights of the glory years in the Taylor era, but Highbury away was definitely the last. Even now whenever I see the people I used to go to see Watford with, that's the one game we all talk about. Fifteen I was, my first season as a regular, oh so long ago now. But it's the sort of game that keeps you coming back.
It was the quarter-final of the cup, and we got the worst possible draw as Arsenal were really on song. It was George Graham's first season as manager (I think) and they'd really got it together around Christmas and were on a roll - a few weeks after we stuffed them they won the League cup against Liverpool. Anyway we'd played them in the league a while earlier, and they'd won 3-1 thanks totally to a dodgy penalty and Coton's subsequent dismissal for dissent despite Nigel "England's number one" Callaghan's impressive game between the sticks. Graham Taylor protested about the choice of ref for this game as it was the same one as before, but to no avail.
Our season was ticking on well, with memorable wins over Liverpool and Everton behind us. Our cup form hadn't been great though, a fairly tight 3-1 win over Maidstone, a win over Walsall in the second replay thanks to an own goal, and a 1-0 win over Chelsea (on the telly, that one was). What was more we had Falco out cup-tied, so Barnes played down the middle with young Gary Porter, in his first season, on the left of midfield.
I knew it was going to be a good game because after the warm up was over and it was time to kick off, Coton naturally enough booted the ball away towards the player's tunnel. Up it went, high in the air, and we all watched as it landed square on some poor copper's head. I've never seen this happen at a game since, but if it does, it's a good omen.
Things started well enough, until we let in an earlyish goal, around 20 minutes. Ball fell to McClelland in a crowded penalty area, for some reason he decided to take it round Coton rather than give it to him and it fell nicely into the path of their sub, Allinson (who I think went on to play for us) who put it away. Bit of a disaster.
Anyway we came back strongly enough and equalised before half-time. Even then I think most of the faithful would have been happy with a draw, although we were playing well, giving them all sorts of trouble. Bardsley in particular gave Kenny Sansom a roasting. It was his cross that gave us our second goal, Barnes heading superbly in off the crossbar, another of his many "rare headed goals".
As the half wore on, we had to defend more and more, as we hung on. Coton in particular was magnificent as they lanched a series of (mostly aerial) attacks. Anyway it all happened in the 85th minute. Suddenly a shout went up and half the players stopped. At the time I really didn't know what they were after, but it transpired to be a shout for a penalty. Anyway the ball had been cleared out to Luther at the half-way line - while Adams stood there, excellently placed at only 40 yards from the incident to insist on the penalty, Luther made for goal. Lukic saved his first shot, but he reacted quickly to knock in the rebound. By this time Adams had got back, but although he was in time to reach the ball, he couldn't get behind it and could only slide it into the net. The joy was made all the more with the knowledge that if Adams had spent about a tenth of a second less standing on the half-way line with his hand in the air while play went on then he'd have stopped it.
Naturally the crowd went wild, but had to stop after a minute as the referee consulted with the linesman, who wanted to award a penalty. He seemed to take forever to decide, but eventually he pointed at the centre spot, so we could all go wild again. The last five minutes were a mere formality. Arsenal were beaten, and we were in the semi-finals. TV cameras vindicated us totally, Niall Quinn's appeal for the penalty shown to be completely groundless.
A week later we beat them 2-0 at Vicarage Road for good measure, then did the double over them in the relegation season, and they're still the team I'd most like to draw in the cup. The semi-final wasn't so grand. Coton and McClelland, who'd been so important in that match, were out injured and for some reason Steve Sherwood couldn't play in goal so Gary Plumley got his one and only outing for the first team. His previous experience was a dozen games for Halifax, and again we got the worst possible draw, an in form Tottenham instead of Coventry or Second Division Leeds. Anyway we were 3-0 down within the half-hour and ended up losing 4-1. In the league we finished well, beating Tottenham in the last game to end 7th and recording our (to date) last win over Luton, a comfortable 2-0 victory. In the summer Barnes signed for Liverpool, and Graham Taylor went to Aston Villa, taking Steve Simms with him. Dave Bassett came in and got rid of Bardsley and Richardson, and dropped Luther. The glory years were over.
But really that was the end. Any list of the great games during the glory years would surely end with that one. Easily my best ever Watford game, a result achieved in glorious sunshine and in which we had a good view of our two winning goals (although not much else). Add to that a bit of revenge, last minute drama and controversy and what more can you ask for?