The moment of ecstasy and relief was short-lived. Watford’s fans had barely recovered their breath after celebrating Gerard Lavin’s incredible long-distance strike when they were brought crashing down to earth by Peterborough’s equaliser.
Watford managed to hold on for less than a minute. A calamitous error by Perry Digweed gifted Tony Adcock his second goal.
The battle to avoid relegation was difficult and tense enough without their fingers hovering permanently over the self-destruct button.
Glenn Roeder’s side went to London Road knowing that defeat would make their chances of survival much slimmer. The night before the game, Oxford had beaten Wolves 4-0 to land Watford in the bottom three again.
If ever there was a definition of a relegation six-pointer, this was it. Posh were bottom of the table.
Watford were fighting hard though, thrashing about like a drowning man. Dennis Bailey rescued a point against Leicester four days earlier with a last-minute diving header. But there comes a moment in every relegation battle when hard-earned draws are not enough.
And this was that moment.
The London Road pitch was rutted and hard. Neither team was flush with confidence. It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing match, it was all about heart and determination.
What followed was an incredible see-saw battle that offered the hand of safety to both teams. In the end, it was Watford who grabbed on for dear life.
The fans had responded, travelling in huge numbers, cramming themselves into every inch of the little terrace. And they were in full voice too. No one was under any illusions about how much this game mattered. Defeat would probably spell disaster.
Roeder’s pre-match team talk was still ringing in their ears when Watford went a goal behind. Colin Foster, the colossus who had gone some way to plugging the leakiest defence in the division, was injured.
Roeder fielded three centre halves, Keith Millen, Keith Dublin and Robert Page and implored them to keep it tight early on. But with just two minutes on the clock, John McGlashan cut through the gap that Watford generously left open for him to give Posh the lead.
‘Sometimes as a manager you do wonder if you’ve wasted your breath,’ says Roeder. ‘You never want to give away goals but in a match when there’s so much at stake, you want to start well.’
Watford battled back to equalise after 18 minutes when Paul Furlong found the net. The rest of the half was cagey, error-strewn stuff.
In the first minute of the second half, Andy Hessenthaler missed an open goal and five minutes later Watford were behind again when Tony Adcock scored from the penalty spot. The terrace housing the away fans writhed with despair and desperation.
Watford were using up all their bullets shooting themselves in the foot. Peterborough were playing just as poorly but were getting the breaks.
For quarter of an hour, all appeared to be lost. Then Keith Dublin bundled the ball into the net and the lifeline was within reach again.
Lavin’s goal seven minutes later was a rare moment of clarity in a drawing room comedy of a match. At times you wouldn’t have been surprised had a player’s shorts fallen down as he attempted a clearance in the penalty box. The full-back’s shot from 30 yards barely achieved lift-off. It skimmed across the ground, cutting the few remaining blades of grass on the pitch on its way into the bottom corner.
The relief was unbelievable. The away fans celebrated with everything they had. For a moment it felt as good as winning the league championship.
All hope appeared gone within sixty seconds. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the blink of an eye. Some Watford fans were still celebrating as Adcock put the ball in the net at the other end after Digweed’s mistake. But this was no time to wallow in self-pity. Roared on by their fans, Watford rallied and ten minutes from time Bailey’s hooked shot deflected off a defender’s head and bounced, bobbled and rolled into the net.
And this time, thank goodness, they did hold on because not many Watford hearts could have withstood another Peterborough goal.
Watford Digweed, Lavin, Drysdale, Page, Dublin, Millen, Hessenthaler, Ramage (Johnson 61), Furlong, Porter, Mooney (Bailey 75)
Manager Glenn Roeder
Scorers Furlong 18, Dublin 65, Lavin 72, Bailey 80
Peterborough scorers McGlashan 2, Adcock 50 pen, 73
Why was this match chosen? With seven games left, Watford were three points behind safety and with the teams ahead of them stretching away. This trip to London Road was heart-stopping stuff from start to finish. It featured one of the great strikes of the decade (from Lavin). The celebrations on the away terrace will never be forgotten. The defending at both ends of the pitch was shambolic at times, but this was a game that was all about the result. A relegation dogfight that can be celebrated and enjoyed in hindsight.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? It was, without doubt, one of the great away days of the 1990s. Such drama. Trailing twice, leading once and then pegged back. Dennis Bailey played eight games for Watford, scoring four times (three of them very important goals) and deserves a place in Watford fans' affections for his role in this great escape.