The draw for the quarter-finals had given Watford a chance. They were drawn at home and they had avoided Arsenal and Chelsea.
They had to wait to see who won the fifth round replay between Burnley and Premiership side Fulham, knowing that the Lancashire team would provide a better chance of reaching the semi-finals. ‘The home draw was absolutely crucial to us,’ says Ray Lewington. ‘We knew we had a chance against most teams at home. Maybe not the top sides from the Premiership but anyone else.
‘We also knew that this was likely to be our only chance to get through. Turf Moor, when it’s full, is a difficult place to go, so we wanted to get the job done at home.’
Watford’s preparations were hit when striker Tommy Smith suffered minor injuries in a car crash a fortnight before the game.
The cup run was vital to Watford’s financial future. Having narrowly avoided administration in the autumn, the books still made grim reading.
Nine players had been told they were to be released at the end of the season and another nine were waiting on tenterhooks to see what the club could afford to offer.
Two weeks before the Burnley match, Stephen Glass, who was brought in from Newcastle United on one of Gianluca Vialli’s handsome contracts, was told that he would not be offered a new deal. Even on drastically reduced terms, Watford could not afford him.
Although high on tension, the first hour or so of this contest was low on quality. The two Division One teams were engaged in a desperate scrap to gain the upper hand but neither appeared to have the wit or guile to gain it.
And then, suddenly, everything clicked into place for Watford. Passes that had been misplaced began to find their men. The Hornets started to put a few useful moves together and chances started to appear.
After an hour, Heidar Helguson missed from five yards after Marcus Gayle had crossed beautifully from the left. Then Smith should have scored when he met Gavin Mahon’s centre.
Burnley tried to hold them at bay but Watford kept going. They got the breakthrough after Helguson’s fine shot was tipped over by Marlon Beresford.
From Neal Ardley’s corner, the ball fell to Mahon, who tapped it to Smith to scramble over the line. If that wasn’t a beautiful goal, the one six minutes later was. Stephen Glass lined up to score a fantastic free-kick that flew over the wall and into the net.
It bagged the Hornets a semi-final place and a million pounds, if not a new contract for the scorer.
Watford Chamberlain, Ardley, Cox, Gayle, Robinson, Mahon, Vernazza (Hand 65), Hyde, Glass, Helguson, Smith (Noel-Williams 77)
Manager Ray Lewington
Scorers Smith 74, Glass 80
Why was this match chosen? To date, Watford have still only won two FA Cup quarter-finals at Vicarage Road – the first was against Liverpool in 1970. This was the second. The other home sixth round ties ended in defeat (Arsenal in 1980, and Liverpool in the 1986 replay). All the other quarter-finals have been away from home. So it was a tie of historical significance.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? A full-house, gripping tension until the last quarter of an hour, then a couple of great goals, – especially the one from Stephen Glass. Yes, it was pretty much the perfect home FA Cup tie.