Sometimes, Graham Taylor’s audacity could be breathtaking. Luton Town, the old enemy, were visiting Vicarage Road on Easter Monday. The ground would be packed and there was far more than local pride at stake.
The Hornets were third in the table, chasing a place in Europe, while the Hatters were second from bottom, scrabbling to avoid a quick return to the Second Division. Promoted together the previous season, with Luton as champions, naturally, it was Watford who had adjusted to life in the top flight more comfortably.
That didn’t mean their wretched run of poor results against their local rivals had improved. On December 27, they lost 1-0 at Kenilworth Road, which was enough to spoil Christmas. Now it was Easter. Time for a resurrection.
Luton had won five of the previous seven meetings 1-0, but Watford proved that for all those single-goal wins there’s no substitute for the style of a five-star display.
When the teams were announced before the game, Watford’s supporters must have imagined Steve Sims and Ian Bolton had been involved in a collision on the training ground the previous day. They’d been the regular partnership at the heart of the defence since October.
They’d barely put a foot wrong and were the solid foundations upon which the team was built. But Taylor decided to rest them both. Instead, he paired 20-year-old Steve Terry with 21-year-old Kenny Jackett for the first time in two years. They still had nightmares about one of the final appearances alongside each other in defence. They had been ruthlessly exposed by Garry Thompson and Mark Hateley during a 5-0 drubbing at Coventry City in the League Cup in December 1980.
Taylor had decided Jackett’s best position was in midfield and Terry, who had started the season at centre half, had lost his place to Sims after Aston Villa’s Peter Withe dominated him. Now the manager wanted to see how the youngsters coped in a high-pressure game. ‘I deliberately chose the Luton match,’ Taylor said. ‘Bolton and Sims have proved they can handle Division One. Can the others?’
This was a full-blooded derby game. Luther Blissett scored early but Trevor Aylott and Brian Horton put Luton in front. Terry and Jackett had some shaky moments but Watford managed to level just before half-time.
After the break, it was a different story. The frustration of not having beaten Luton since 1971 gave way to delight as Watford scored twice in two minutes and then added a fifth near the end, showing that attack is the best form of defence.
This was a good old-fashioned drubbing and Watford’s most comprehensive win over Luton for 50 years.
Watford Sherwood, Rice, Rostron, Taylor, Terry, Jackett, Callaghan (Armstrong 82), Blissett, Barnes, Jobson, Lohman
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Blissett 6, 48 pen, Jobson 42, Barnes 49, Callaghan 78
Luton scorers Aylott 16, Horton 29
Why was this match chosen? Watford's first top-flight win over their local rivals, who had held the upper hand for so long, was particularly sweet.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? Luton's relevance faded as they slipped into non-league and continue battle back up the divisions but surely there's a little part of all of us that each season hopes for a draw against them in one of the cups so we can replicate results like this? No?