Bailey to the rescue
Report by Ian Grant
93/94 was one hell of a season. I'll be more than happy if we don't have to go through that kind of stress again. A bright start to the campaign was brought to an abrupt halt by Furlong's absurd dismissal at Birmingham and we slid down the table. When we lost at home to Grimsby it seemed that the game was up - many of us accepted that relegation was a certainty. But frantic transfer activity brought a new defensive partnership of Foster and Millen and new strikers in the form of Mooney and Dennis Bailey and our fortunes improved with an excellent home win over Millwall.
Peterborough had been in deep trouble all season and, by the time this fixture at London Road came along, it was clear that whichever side lost would go down. Clap Your Hands summed it up simply enough - 'you HAVE to be there, no excuses'. On the night, it seemed that about half of Watford had travelled to roar on the 'Orns. Defeat was absolutely unthinkable.
With Foster injured, we fielded a five-man defence, Millen, Dublin and Page in the middle, and it was cruelly exposed with five minutes as Peterborough cut through to score. Curses. The noise from the Watford faithful was unbelievable, however, and we played our part in getting the team back into the game. Nigel Gibbs, still injured but travelling with the squad, was later to comment that he'd never heard Watford fans generate so much volume in support of the team - he was right, it was absolutely deafening.
It was, in truth, an awful game of football. The neutrals, if there were any, might as well have buggered off home at kickoff - the tension of the occasion clearly got to the players and there was precious little skill on show. A Furlong header got us level during a scrappy first half but this was a mere warm-up - the real drama was yet to come.
We messed up again at the start of the second half, comceding a penalty as Peterborough made the most of some poor defending. For the next quarter of an hour we stared relegation full in the face. It was horrible - watching your team lose is never fun, watching them sliding into the next division is pretty unbearable. When we created chances we wasted them - Andy Hessenthaler shot wide when clean through with only the keeper to beat (by this time, the terrace was so packed that nobody at the back could see the goal we were attacking - it took a couple of minutes to work out that Hessy had missed and stop celebrating). Desperation set in - passes went astray and that unthinkable defeat seemed about to happen.
You might think I'm exaggerating but if I had the chance to pick an hour's worth of moments from my life and relive them, the last quarter of this game would make up twenty minutes of that hour. Keith Dublin's equaliser, a rubbish goal but who cares, set it all up. The fans went mental and raised the roof - we weren't going to let the night pass without giving it our best shot. We knew we had to win and we made sure the lads knew it as well.
Dennis Bailey came on for Mooney and we set about the task. It was Gerard Lavin who got our noses in front, hitting an amazing drive form thirty yards out that flew into the bottom corner - it was to win the goal of the season award. Of course, from the back of the terrace I didn't see it hit the net but the bedlam that ensued made up for that.
The lead lasted only a couple of minutes, however, as a dreadful error by Perry Digweed presented Boro with an unguarded net. We weren't to be denied though. We won a corner and the rendition of "Come on you 'Orns" must have registered on the Richter scale as the fans climbed up on the fence to urge on the lads. I saw nothing of the goal, all I remember is seeing Watford players running to celebrate and being hurled up and down the terrace time and again. Looking at it on video, Bailey's goal was just down to appalling defending, at the time it was a moment of absolute, perfect ecstacy. Never has the word "YES", screamed over and over, been so expressive. Thinking about that goal still makes me emotional - it's a memory that will live for a long time to come.
We held on for the last few minutes and somehow, despite the acute tension, I never doubted that we would. The victory was greeted by huge celebrations at the away end, chorus upon chorus of "We are staying up" and floods of emotion. I have to say I nearly cried, such was the relief at the comeback. We'd faced certain relegation but lived to fight another day - we lost at home to Tranmere the next game (something of a return to normality), but scrapped for enough points to survive with one game to spare.
It's history now but the players who gave everything for that victory will always be heroes to me. Keith Dublin and Dennis Bailey are no longer at Watford, yet their place in Hornet folklore was assured on that night. And the thought of that goal still sends shivers down my spine...
See also: Dennis Bailey tribute