Richard Johnson's late cracker makes it a not-so-happy return for Taylor
Graham Taylor had been mocked and vilified for his failure to lead England to the 1994 World Cup. The fact that he had at his disposal arguably the worst group of England players in a generation was conveniently overlooked by a tabloid press that thought depicting someone’s head as a root vegetable was the height of satire.
But there was still one place in the country where he would be guaranteed a warm welcome, although that’s not to say Watford weren’t determined to send him and his team home empty-handed. This was Taylor’s first return to Vicarage Road as an opposition manager for a competitive fixture since leaving in 1987.
‘The fact we were up against Graham Taylor’s team was a great motivator for us that night,’ says Glenn Roeder. ‘There were people like Gary Porter and David Holdsworth who had been at the club when Graham was here but everyone wanted to impress someone who had been manager of their country.
‘We were all set and then a policeman put his head round the dressing room door and said the game was being delayed for 15 minutes because there had been an accident on the motorway,’ added Roeder.
‘Suddenly, all my preparations were ruined because we didn’t have an awful lot left to say. Our work was done and the players were in the zone. I was trying to think of what we could do to kill time.
‘One by one, I made everyone in the dressing room tell a joke. I’d read about someone doing it before and it was the only thing I could think of.
‘So we went round and they took turns. Some of the jokes were awful, some of them were very funny. As you can imagine almost none of them are printable. Some of the lads were in their element and wanted to do more than one, others were crapping themselves.
‘But 15 minutes went just like that and all of a sudden it was time to go out. They were relaxed and laughing and probably in the ideal frame of mind for the game.’
As expected, Taylor was given the warmest of receptions, which brought a tear to the eye. The stadium had changed a fair bit since he’d last sat on the bench but it was difficult for the Watford supporters not to think back to some of the glory nights of yesteryear.
But their allegiance was to the men in yellow shirts, not to Graham Taylor and once the game was underway, there was no room for sentiment.
Besides, Wolves were not many people’s cup of tea in the Nineties. They seemed to think having a big stadium meant they had a divine right to a place in the Premiership.
Colin Foster, one of the heroes of the previous season, gave Watford the lead after just seven minutes. Roeder treated Foster in a similar way to how Taylor had handled the injury-hit Paul McGrath at Aston Villa.
Foster had been plagued by injuries throughout his career and needed careful management. ‘Colin Foster is a great lesson for any manager,’ says Roeder. Not all players are the same. ‘I wanted to sign Foster from West Ham about six weeks before he eventually joined but I took Kenny Jackett with me to watch their reserves at Bristol City.
‘This is not a slight on Kenny but he wasn’t impressed. He said he’d seen faster tortoises, which was a fair point. Foster then went to Notts County and we went to see him again and he was superb. The lesson was, don’t judge experienced players on reserve team football. Very few people manage to motivate themselves for the reserves in the same way.
‘Colin was a bit different. He liked to rest a lot at the beginning of the week and train on Thursday and Friday and then play. And when he played he was superb for us.
‘He could stop things happening by doing very little. He was always firefighting, stopping the little things before the flames got out of control. His anticipation was tremendous. Some of the best defenders think negatively. They think every situation is going to turn out badly in a minute and they are always planning for the worst.’
Watford defended well until five minutes from time, when Neil Emblen headed home from a Paul Birch corner.
Just two minutes later, Richard Johnson unleashed a terrific shot from 25 yards that flew into the net for the Watford winner. It was the type of effort that was to become the Australian’s trademark and prompted Watford’s fans to shout ‘Shoooot’ whenever he got the ball on the edge of the box.
Roeder, who reprimanded him for his wayward shooting from way out in the 1-0 defeat at Swindon, now admitted Johnson had found his range.
Taylor avoided the post-match press conference, later saying: ‘The England squad had just been announced and John Barnes was in it. I didn’t want to be asked about it or get involved.’
The reception from the Watford fans had touched him. ‘It was very nice. When the Rookery is finished it will be a different ground to the one I knew. It made me feel quite wistful.’
No one could have predicted that night that within a year and a half Taylor would have replaced Roeder as the Watford boss.
Watford Miller, Bazeley, Johnson, Foster, Holdsworth, Ramage, Hessenthaler, Payne, Moralee, Porter, Mooney
Manager Glenn Roeder
Scorers Foster 7, Johnson 87
Wolves scorer Emblen 85
Why was this match chosen? It was GT's first return to Vicarage Road as a club manager for a competitive fixture, Johnson's goal was a cracker (it won goal of the season).
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? There weren't too many out-of-your-seat moments like this during Roeder's reign but this was one. This was the fourth league game of that season and Watford hadn't scored a goal until Colin Foster's opener.