When Trevor Christie scored Notts County’s second goal after nine minutes, it looked like Watford’s superb revival had been stopped in its tracks.
A team that had looked relegation favourites up until December had hit its stride and was now playing with just as much style as the one that had finished as runners-up the previous season.
Watford had a new ‘front four’ to strike fear into the hearts of any defence even if they were also a trifle profligate at the back. Rachid Harkouk caught them cold in the fourth minute and they still hadn’t regained their composure when Christie scored the second.
The Magpies were in serious trouble, nine points adrift of safety and were playing with the urgency of a team that feared for its lives.
A stroke of good fortune quickly got Watford back into the match. A lofted free-kick was taken by David Bardsley. George Reilly flicked it on and Kenny Jackett ran in behind the County defence to fire a shot against goalkeeper Jim McDonough. The ball rebounded off David Hunt and went into the net.
There was nothing lucky about the equaliser. Wilf Rostron’s centre was knocked down by Les Taylor and Nigel Callaghan lashed it home with his left foot from the corner of the six-yard box. It was a sensational strike but he managed to hit an even better one two minutes before half-time. Watford flooded forward and spread the ball wide to Callaghan. From further out and from a tighter angle this time, Callaghan unleashed a right-foot shot that ended up in the same corner of McDonough’s net as his first.
The second strike won the goal of the month competition on the BBC’s Match of the Day but both were worthy
Reilly, who dominated County’s big centre half Brian Kilcline, made it 4-2 at the start of the second half., following up after Barnes had hit the bar with a header.
As County’s manager, Larry Lloyd said of Reilly: ‘He’s ungainly and awkward but he’s very effective.’ Reilly’s confidence had finally grown to match his towering stature. After a difficult start to the season, this was Reilly’s best display in a Watford shirt. So much more than a target man, Reilly was the focal point of almost every Hornets attack.
County pulled one back but the visitors wrapped it up late on when Les Taylor burst through the defence and cut the cross back so Maurice Johnston could score with a diving header.
Watford Sherwood, Bardsley, Rostron, Taylor, Terry, Franklin, Callaghan, Johnston, Reilly, Jackett, Barnes (Sterling)
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Hunt og 14, Callaghan 28, 43, Reilly 46, Johnston 82
Notts County scorers Harkouk 4, Christie 9, 56
Why was this match chosen? Watford turned an early 2-0 deficit into a brilliant 5-3 away win. It deserves its place in the 100 greatest wins if only for Callaghan's two brilliant strikes, one with his right foot, one with his left.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This match came midway through a brilliant 18-game run stretching from New Year's Eve 1983 (a 1-0 win over Birmingham) to late March when Watford's record in league and FA Cup matches was W13 D3 L2. During that run they scored 42 goals (2.3 per game) and were arguably not just the form team in the country but the most entertaining.