The First Division season was only 29 days old and here were Watford administering the sort of hammering a newly-promoted side might have dreaded.
Sunderland were torn apart by a team that was rampant and yet almost unaware of its own strength.
Graham Taylor’s insistence that his men would attack without mercy, for fear of being taught a lesson by sides that were supposedly superior, meant there was the possibility someone might be on the end of a humiliating defeat.
This was one of only two occasions when Watford have scored eight goals in a match since the Second World War – the other was an 8-0 League Cup win over Darlington in 1987.
And this remains Watford’s biggest ever win in the Football League.
Sunderland were mauled, overrun and demoralised but they didn’t start too badly. With a young Ally McCoist up front, they could have scored at least twice before Watford took the lead.
Steve Terry was making his first appearance in Division One and as he lost his man a couple of times, he could have been forgiven for having flashbacks to his nightmare Watford debut, a 5-0 hammering at Sunderland’s Roker Park two years earlier.
But once Nigel Callaghan had scored two headed goals and Luther Blissett and Ross Jenkins had added the third and fourth with just over half an hour gone, the result was beyond doubt.
At half-time, the manager refused to let his players sit down. Perhaps it was because he sensed a massacre or maybe he feared his team would not know how to handle the situation ahead of them. It was not in Watford’s nature to take the foot off the pedal. Taylor certainly didn’t want them relaxing and letting Sunderland back into the match, so he made them jog on the spot for ten minutes until it was time to go back out.
Taylor had been particularly tough on his squad in the run-up to the game. The previous week they had been poor at Nottingham Forest, so he had them running all week until their heads were about to drop. Then, just when the players wondered if they could cope with any more, he took them to a hotel and treated them to a full English breakfast and a couple of pints.
It was the equivalent of caging a pack of tigers for a week and denying them food, then giving them a sniff of prime steak before sending them into the arena.
The second half offered more of the same. The fifth goal was poetry in motion. Watch it on YouTube. Watford rob Sunderland’s attackers in their own area and play their way out of trouble. The ball is worked to Ian Bolton, tight on the right-hand touchline deep in his own half. He sends an inch-perfect long pass sailing high down the line with his first touch.
It beats the Sunderland full back and lands in front of Callaghan with such precision that the winger doesn’t even need to break his stride. It was like the ball had been parachuted to safety.
Callaghan crosses first time and Blissett heads firmly past Chris Turner. Three touches and the ball has travelled 90 yards in one direction and 20 yards in another. Three touches, and Sunderland may as well not have been on the pitch.
Blissett completed his first senior hat-trick and added a fourth for good measure. Even the electronic scoreboard joined in the celebrations with a message: ‘Well done Luther’.
While Turner, who almost joined Watford from Sheffield Wednesday when they were in the Third Division, found his nightmare was complete, the Watford supporters must have thought they were dreaming.
WATFORD Sherwood, Rice, Rostron, Taylor, Terry, Bolton, Callaghan, Blissett, Jenkins, Jackett, Barnes
Goals Callaghan 12, 23, Blissett 26, 58, 83, 88, Jenkins 32, 71
Manager Graham Taylor
SUNDERLAND Turner, Venison, Munro, Atkins, Hindmarch, Nicholl, Buckley, Rowell, McCoist, Pickering, Cummins
Manager Alan Durban