All of a sudden, as 1984 drew to a close, Watford could sense a quick return to Wembley. The way they brushed aside an aggressive West Brom team to reach the quarter-finals of the Milk Cup suggested that another trip to the Twin Towers was on the cards.
The league campaign had begun in abysmal style. They had bumped along in the bottom three until November, when the arrival of John McClelland acted like a bung to plug the division’s leakiest defence. And while the league form slowly recovered, the Milk Cup offered a welcome distraction and a chance to play without fear.
They won 4-0 against Second Division Leeds at Elland Road in the previous round and then came up against the ghosts of Dirty Leeds in the teeming rain at Vicarage Road.
Managed by ex-Leeds star Johnny Giles, who was assisted by Norman Hunter, Albion displayed all the aggression and ill-discipline of their notorious Elland Road side from the Seventies.
Albion took an early lead and as Watford struck back with a rat-a-tat of goals from George Reilly and Luther Blissett, the visitors resorted to some pretty rough tactics. The likes of Derek Statham, Ali Robertson and Tony Grealish employed every trick in the book but their attempts at intimidation failed. Les Taylor fired the Hornets further ahead before half-time. By the time Steve Terry got the fourth, West Brom had lost the match and their composure. Watford, wise to their guests’ tricks, beat them at their own game.
‘We were winding them up something rotten,’ says Reilly. ‘They had been kicking and elbowing us, so we were giving it back. The thing was, we were in control of the match and that just made them madder. We were passing the ball and saying Olé with every touch.’
At the end, Albion were in no mood to congratulate the victors. ‘It all kicked off in the tunnel,’ says Reilly. ‘When I turned round, everyone had gone in the dressing room and shut the door, leaving me to it. Ali Robertson was about to hit me so I poked him in the eye.’
Watford were drawn at home, to either Sunderland or Tottenham, in the quarter-finals. When Spurs were knocked out, suddenly it seemed destined to be Watford’s year but they slipped to defeat on an icy pitch. ‘That was a lesson to us never to get ahead of ourselves,’ said Graham Taylor.
Watford Coton, Sinnott, Jackett, Taylor, Terry, McClelland, Sterling, Blissett, Reilly, Rostron, Barnes
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Reilly 18, Blissett 22, Taylor 34, Terry 63
West Brom scorer Cross 3
Why was this match chosen? A cracking cup tie against potentially awkward opposition put Watford into the quarter-finals. This was arguably Watford's best ever chance to win a major trophy because had they beaten Sunderland in the next round, they'd have joined Chelsea (nothing like the club they are today), Norwich and Ipswich in the semi-finals.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This was typical of the 1980s when Watford were so difficult to beat in the cups, especially at Vicarage Road.