The waiting is over and tomorrow afternoon we will step out at Vicarage Road to open our second Premier League campaign.
The Hornets have featured throughout Albion’s Football League history and Saturday’s meeting will be the 113th in our history.
The first came in April 1921, when Watford won 3-0 at the Goldstone in front of a crowd of 10,000. Our paths diverged in 1958 when we won the old Division Three (South) and Watford moved in the opposite direction to the newly-formed Division Four. It was a 6-0 defeat of Watford that secured the title and our first ever promotion.
Before last season, we had met just twice before in the top flight, in our relegation season of 1982/83. For this week’s look back, we return to 1990/91, a season that saw us reach the play-offs and Watford flirt with relegation.
In January 1991, we were beginning to show signs of the form that would see us at Wembley just five months later. In his notes for the game, Albion boss Barry Lloyd talked about the need for consistency from his players. He also asks for consistency from referees and looks back to a recent game in which Robert Codner was dismissed for reportedly “asking the referee to stop play and allow immediate medical attention for a player”.
Watford, under boss Steve Perryman, were playing well following the appointment of the ex-Spurs defender. He had only been at Vicarage Road for two months, in which time he had overseen an eight-game unbeaten run. Their defence included Keith Dublin, who had been signed from Albion in the summer of 1990. In goal was 20-year-old David James, who was to enjoy a distinguished career with (among others) Liverpool and England.
The previous week had seen us dispose of Newcastle 4-2, with Brian Wade scoring all four. It was his debut, after being offered a trial by Lloyd and he took his chance with aplomb. He retained his place in what Lloyd was hoping to be a settled line-up for the second half of the season.
Perry Digweed continued in goal, behind a back four of John Crumplin, Steve Gatting, Paul McCarthy and Gary Chivers. In midfield, Codner was joined by Dean Wilkins, Clive Walker and Mark Barham. Up front, Wade partnered Mike Small.
The first half was a stroll for Albion and we were two goals up at the break, thanks to a Small penalty and Codner. Lloyd’s message at the break was “more of the same” and we obliged with a professional second half display. Substitutes John Byrne and Ian Chapman came on for Wade and Small and our dominance was rewarded with another penalty, this time converted by Codner.
The win kept us in sixth position and proved to be the impetus that Lloyd wanted. After the Watford game, we stayed in touch with the top-six, until the drama on the last day, when Wilkins’ sublime free-kick took us into the play-offs.
Let’s hope the 113th meeting between the two clubs will provide Albion with the springboard to consolidate our position in the Premier League.