Selhurst Park. There’s nothing to like about the place. Admit it, who among the Watford faithful wasn’t thinking: let’s just go down there, keep it tight and get away with a draw. Give ourselves a chance in the second leg.
Aidy Boothroyd wasn’t thinking that. Thirteen months before this match, he was picking up bibs and arranging cones for Kevin Blackwell at Leeds. Now he had led the Hornets into the play-offs at the first attempt and he was in no mood to be cautious.
His self-belief bordered on the megalomaniacal at times. Despite losing home and away to Palace in the league, he felt Watford would win.
Unlike in 1999, there was no last-minute charge into the play-offs.
Watford made certain of their place with a 1-1 draw against Luton with four games to spare. There was time to think and Boothroyd made the most of it.
After the 2-1 win over Ipswich, he asked the crowd to stay behind and boo as his players staged a practice penalty shoot-out.
It was an idea he’d had after talking to Sir Clive Woodward, the England World Cup-winning rugby coach, who was working at Southampton.
Graham Taylor had done the same thing behind closed doors seven years earlier but the fact Boothroyd was prepared to risk ridicule doing it publicly increased the sense of belief people had in the team. Perhaps we were going to do this.
Palace were stubborn opponents in the first half. Watford created just one half-chance, for Marlon King. Palace should have scored when Andy Johnson shaped to shoot, only for Jordan Stewart to somehow get his leg in the way to block it.
A deep breath. Forty-five minutes to survive, then get them back to Vicarage Road. It seemed Boothroyd had the same idea because he replaced Darius Henderson with Al Bangura at half time. That’s it. Don’t give anything away, don’t do anything stupid and leave ourselves a mountain to climb.
And then, a minute or so into the second half, Marlon King scored. It was superb shot after a smart turn.
Then Ashley Young whipped a free-kick over the wall and in. Two-nil. Are we dreaming? But there was more. Matt Spring fired in the third near the end. It was difficult not to get carried away.
Three-nil would be enough, wouldn’t it? At the end, the announcer on the public address system implored the Palace fans to believe. ‘It’s not over yet,’ he said. But it was over and everyone knew it.
The second leg was a dour, tetchy goalless draw featuring a touchline brawl. However, it wasn’t even that nerve-wracking. Brilliant.
Watford Foster, Stewart, Mackay, DeMerit, Doyley, Chambers (Eagles 83), Mahon, Young, Spring, Henderson (Bangura 45), King
Manager Aidy Boothroyd
Scorers King 46, Young 67, Spring 85
Why was this match chosen? Play-off games are supposed to be tense and for the first half this was a typical knock-out tie with all the tension of a season bound up in it. But the second half was a different story – the first goal was huge, the second was extraordinary and the third more or less put the tie beyond reach. It was a game that set up a play-off final and another promotion.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? It was a result beyond anyone's wildest dreams and a day that will never fade in the memory of anyone who was there.