Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 08.36.55.png

Sunderland were well on their way to the Premiership, propelled there by  Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.

They were top of the league and went on to win the title by a distance but they came up against a Watford team that embodied all the qualities that typified a Graham Taylor side.

The Hornets produced a result and performance that they could store in the memory banks and summon as inspiration later in the season.

Watford had been dipping, having failed to score a goal in the league for three matches, but there was a positive feeling in the air before this one.

Nick Wright played at centre forward alongside Gifton Noel-Williams and they were every bit as dangerous as Quinn and Phillips.

‘Tony Daley was out on the right wing,’ says Wright. ‘He wasn’t as quick as in his Aston Villa days but he still had the ability to go past a player and put in a cross.’

Daley ran at Sunderland from the start and it was clear the visitors didn’t fancy that too much.

It was Daley who set up the first goal. ‘My objective was to move the defender away and then make some space for myself just before the ball came over,’ says Wright. ‘It was a great delivery and I managed to get a good contact on it.’

Spurred on by a loud, passionate crowd that matched the fervour of the visiting hordes from the north east, Watford kept going forward.

Once a Hornet, always a Hornet. When the crowd chanted ‘Kevin, what’s the score, Kevin, Kevin, what’s the score,’ Phillips turned and held his hands up to answer. One-nil. The Vicarage Road end roared its approval.

It was one apiece soon enough. Quinn levelled towards the end of a breathtaking first half.

Remarkably, Watford found they were able to step it up a gear after the break. The winning goal was a thing of beauty. Ben Iroha took a long throw that Noel-Williams controlled on his chest with grace and care.

In one smooth movement he lashed a looping half-volley on the turn. The ball pinged off his foot and flew past Thomas Sorensen. It was the finest goal he had scored for Watford. For such a strapping, powerful man, Noel-Williams was capable of surprising suppleness.

Soon after, his entire career was jeopardised when he was crunched by a terrible challenge from Paul Butler. The resulting knee injury kept him out for a year and he was never quite the same again.

Watford had beaten the best team in the division and Butler had exacted his revenge. Although Watford spluttered through the first part of spring, the win over Sunderland was always there as a reminder of what they could achieve.

Chamberlain, Bazeley, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Iroha, Wright, Hyde, Noel-Williams (Mooney 67), Johnson, Daley (Hazan 81)
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Wright 18, Noel-Williams 53
Sunderland scorer Quinn 36
Attendance 20,188

Why was this match chosen? Watford were – to use one of Graham Taylor's phrases – 'in and about' the promotion frame but after a run of four draws and a defeat were doubts whether they could sustain the push in the second half of the season. Runaway leaders Sunderland came to town, Vicarage Road was packed and a rejigged frontline surprised the visitors. This victory didn't exactly kickstart the run for the play-offs but it proved that Watford could beat the best.

How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This was Graham Taylor's 'second' Watford team at their most aggressive and dynamic. The only downside was the career-altering injury to Gifton Noel-Williams.