'Where's your banner gone?'
Watford and Bristol City had spent the previous season locked in a race for the Second Division championship. It was a race the Hornets won on the final day of the season.
The fact the Robins were managed by Graham Taylor’s very good friend and former assistant John Ward made it almost a sibling rivalry. Taylor and Ward had been friends since their Lincoln City days. In the Eighties, when Ward was learning how to be a coach, Taylor mentored him and confided in him.
Although it was a friendly rivalry, both men burned to win. The fixture list meant the two promoted teams met each other early in the new season, at Ashton Gate. Bristol City had spent millions on two strikers, Ade Akinbiyi and Tony Thorpe. Watford had been shopping in the bargain bin again. There was a sense of optimism at Bristol City that was not matched at Watford.
The Watford fans were putting a brave face on things, reminding the City supporters who had won the silverware in May but there was a fear that if they were not careful, the Hornets could be in for a rough afternoon.
Despite two wins in the league, at Portsmouth and at home to Bradford, Watford’s most recent match was a truly dreadful 1-1 draw against Cambridge in the League Cup, which saw them slip out of the competition on aggregate.
The score at Ashton Gate suggests that Bristol City wilted but that is far from the case. Watford took the lead after eight minutes when Richard Johnson, playing his first game of the season after injury, blasted a volley with fearsome strength from at least 30 yards.
After that, City gave as good as they got. There were chances at both ends in a game played at a frenetic pace. In the second half, Dean Yates prodded home the second when City failed to deal with a corner but within a minute Soren Andersen had got them back in it.
Johnson hit another thunderbolt and then Alon Hazan finished off a superb, fluent move that spread across the pitch and found him in space. If his finish was ice cool, his celebration defied rational sense. Who can blame him? Hazan’s goal rounded off a brilliant team performance. Watford had dismantled a side that had looked dangerous. They simply outplayed City.
Ward left Ashton Gate in October and was replaced by Benny Lennartson. Bristol City finished bottom of the table. Watford won the play-offs. Here endeth two valuable lessons. Money is not the answer to everything. And never doubt Graham Taylor.
Watford Chamberlain, Bazeley, Kennedy, Palmer, Millen (Hazan 68), Yates, Smart (Daley 87), Hyde, Ngonge (Noel-Williams 78), Johnson, Robinson
Manager Graham Taylor
Watford scorers Johnson 8, 61, Yates 58, Hazan 79
Bristol City scorer Andersen 59
Why was this match chosen? There's nothing like punishing hubris in football. Bristol City's premature 'Champions' banner served as motivation not once but twice. If Watford fans had feared their team might struggle after winning promotion this result banished those worries.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? It was one of the best games of a remarkable season that ended with promotion at Wembley.