It’s rarely a good sign when your manager starts seeing a conspiracy theory in the kick-off time. Watford’s sixth round tie at Home Park was moved to Sunday teatime so it could be shown live by BBC and Aidy Boothroyd said, ‘They have done their best to make sure there is an upset. The pitch is not the best and it’s a long way down there. Everything’s against us.’
It has to be said, Watford were ripe for an upset. Second from bottom in the Premiership, the FA Cup had at least provided some light relief from what had become a grim slog.
After victory over Ipswich Town in the fifth round, Watford got a slice of luck in the draw that wouldn’t have gone amiss in the league – they were paired with the only non-Premiership side left in the competition.
The press seized on it as a re-run of the 1984 semi-final and billed it the Battle of George Reilly’s ear.
The goalscorer in that Villa Park clash 23 years earlier had been attacked while working on a building site in 2003. His assailant bit a chunk out of his earlobe and said: ‘That’s for Plymouth.’
Despite Boothroyd’s fears, Watford were thoroughly professional and got the job done.
‘We knew we had to work hard to get ourselves up for that game,’ says Jay DeMerit. ‘We’d been playing in the Premiership where every week you face a huge challenge. You go to impressive grounds and you’re playing against some of the best players in the world. It’s pretty easy to get motivated, because you know that if you’re not on top of your game you can get embarrassed.
‘There’s always a risk that people relax a little bit, mentally, when they then go and play a team from a lower division. We didn’t do that. We went there and we were solid.’
Before the match, Plymouth re-enacted a strange 77-year-old ritual that they claimed had helped them win promotion from the Third Division. They placed a giant pasty behind the goal at the Davenport Road end.
Hameur Bouazza’s superb first-time shot from Steven Kabba’s pass knocked the stuffing out of Plymouth and their pasty.
But Argyle laid siege to Watford’s goal in the second half and Ben Foster and his defence had a couple of lucky escapes.
Plymouth’s manager Ian Holloway was frustrated but full of admiration for Foster’s display. ‘To be honest, I used to like that fella,’ he said of the Watford keeper. ‘But in the second half he stopped us reaching a cup semi-final.’
Boothroyd acknowledged Watford had ridden their luck. ‘We have lost games where we’ve had spells like they had, so we know what it’s like to give it everything and not get the breaks.’
Watford Foster, Mariappa, Shittu, DeMerit, Powell, Smith, Francis, Mahon, Bouazza, Kabba (Chambers 59), Priskin
Manager Aidy Boothroyd
Scorer Bouazza 21
Why was this match chosen? It was a victorious FA Cup quarter-final when all signs pointed towards an upset – and a chance to revive memories of 1984.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? The 2007 cup run took the sting out of relegation. The final was to be the first held at the rebuilt Wembley. What a shame Watford couldn't have avoided Manchester United (and Chelsea) in the semi-final draw.