Rams hit for six as Hornets close in on the top flight
Three days after knocking West Ham out of the FA Cup to confirm that Watford could live with the top sides, they handed Derby County the sort of merciless beating they’d been threatening for a while.
Astonishingly, Nigel Callaghan was dropped to the bench, despite his superb backheeled goal against the Hammers. Even more astonishing was the story behind the decision. Exasperated at the way the young winger chose to conduct himself at times, Graham Taylor asked him to live with him and his family for a couple of weeks. Callaghan did as he was asked but refused to stay any longer.
Taylor wanted to rest Callaghan as he had done some of the other young players but Callaghan perceived it as a punishment. Watford demolished the Rams, with Gerry Armstrong scoring twice in the opening quarter of an hour.
Luther Blissett added a third before half-time and Ian Bolton piled on the misery early in the second half. Barnes scored Watford’s fifth and Callaghan, on as a sub, got the sixth no sooner had Paul Emson grabbed a slim consolation effort for the Rams.
Early in the second half came a moment that was to prove as pivotal to Watford’s future fortunes as any that season. Keith Pritchett, the left-back, got injured and had to go off. He was replaced by Callaghan but the job of filling his position on a more permanent basis was not so easy.
Taylor tried the right-back, Mick Henderson, in the next match at Rotherham, but was not convinced.
Had Pritchett not got injured, it is likely that Watford would never have seen the best of Wilf Rostron, who had failed to impress as either a winger or a striker. Languishing in the reserves, he would almost certainly have been moved on at the end of the season had he not embraced a new role.
Taylor tested him out at left-back in training, then put Rostron in the team against Chelsea. He won the man of the match award and never looked back, becoming one of the team’s most reliable performers and taking over the captaincy from Pat Rice.
By now Watford were third in the table and firmly in the promotion hunt. This thumping victory signalled the beginning of the big push. Meanwhile, people were beginning to take notice.
Watford Sherwood, Rice, Pritchett (Callaghan 49), Taylor, Terry, Bolton, Blissett, Armstrong, Jenkins, Lohman, Barnes
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Armstrong 3, 14, Blissett 27, Bolton 48, Barnes 50, Callaghan 71
Derby scorer Emson 70
Why was this match chosen? It was the biggest win of the 1981-82 promotion season, two-up in quarter of an hour and a relentless onslaught that happened frequently during Taylor's first spell as manager.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? A pivotal game in the promotion push. Watford would not look back from this point. Although it was unfortunate for Keith Pritchett, had he not gone off injured, we might never have seen Wilf Rostron blossom into the club's captain and twice player of the season as he made the left-back position his own.