In 1977, Ron Atkinson had been one of the names mentioned as Watford’s possible new manager. The job went to Graham Taylor.
In 1981, both men were on the shortlist as candidates to replace Dave Sexton at Manchester United. United opted for Atkinson but you could say they might have been better off going for Taylor.
Perhaps Taylor wasn’t flash enough for United. He didn’t have Big Ron’s penchant for champagne, jewellery or bespoke Italian leather shoes.
Watford were going well in Division Two when the draw for the FA Cup third round threw up an opportunity to test themselves against one of the best.
The pundits had already pencilled them in as one of the sides likely to go up. Now they could get a taste of what life in the top flight might be like.
Bad weather meant there had been a rash of postponements. Watford hadn’t played since December 12. The team had a break from competitive matches but that didn’t mean they had their feet up. Taylor decided to make the most of the opportunity and with the Christmas fixtures called off, he set about devising a game plan that would beat United.
He withdrew John Barnes into a deeper position to mark Bryan Robson and put the new arrival from Holland, Jan Lohman, on the left flank.
The night before the game, Taylor called all his staff together and they went for a meal at The Alpine in Bushey Heath. It started a cup tie tradition that would last a couple of years until the team reached the FA Cup final in 1984. Before every cup tie, the staff would have a meal and a few drinks. There would be songs and joke-telling.
The pitch at Vicarage Road was in a bit of a state and after a few months at United, Big Ron had obviously forgotten the joys of sitting on an uncovered bench. The pitch was boggy and he feared for his expensive shoes but, after a brief hesitation, he tiptoed his way across the mud.
His United players showed a similar reluctance to get dirty.
Watford were hungrier. Ross Jenkins gave Kevin Moran a hard time and Luther Blissett ran Martin Buchan’s ageing legs into the ground. What pleased Taylor most was that the goal came from a move they’d practiced over and over in training.
Les Taylor’s corner was punched clear by Gary Bailey. Taylor then ran infield, anticipating where the clearance might land, so he was able to send an early cross deep into the box towards Lohman. The Dutchman’s header was blocked by the United keeper but it fell straight to Lohman who scored at the second attempt.
For the second time in four years, Watford had knocked United out of a cup competition. Now it was less of an upset, more an indication of what was to come.
Watford Sherwood, Rice (Armstrong), Pritchett, Taylor, Terry, Bolton, Callaghan, Blissett, Jenkins, Barnes, Lohman
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorer Lohman 44
Why was this match chosen? One of the greatest cup upsets in the club's history, even if, in hindsight, it looked like it was on the cards before kick-off.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This game confirmed that Watford need not fear reaching Division One. It also showed Graham Taylor's ability to adapt his tactical approach to the opposition when need be. And the goal, scored by Jan Lohman, was one straight off the training ground.