The GT Years Ranked: 6 - 1978/79
Nick Catley presents his list of GT's greatest seasons at Watford
If 1977/78 was largely about getting Watford back to their traditional historical level, 1978/79 was more of an acid test – the club had only once been promoted to the second tier before, and had only lasted three seasons. Another impressive early-season spell left Watford top in November after winning 13 and losing five of their first 18 games. Perhaps even more memorably, the performance that started to make the nation think Watford might turn out to be a bit more than a pop star’s idle fantasy also came during that run – Blissett announced himself to the world in the space of 25 second-half minutes on 4 October 1978 with a pair of headers that knocked Manchester United out of the League Cup. Indeed, he got 27 that year, his first full one in the team, but even then was upstaged by Ross Jenkins, who managed a barely believable 37 in surely his defining season in a Watford shirt.
A win against Stoke City, promoted to Division One that season, followed before, in the semis, we bowed out against the reigning League champions and eventual League Cup winners, Nottingham Forest, who also won the European Cup for good measure. The Old Trafford win was our first against top division opposition in the Taylor era, but certainly wasn’t the last…
Meanwhile, in the League, after that strong start, we drew eight of the next 11 but remained pretty solid, and after a 3-0 win at Field Mill in early April we topped the table by two points and looked good for a second consecutive promotion. However, a 3-0 Good Friday loss at home to Colchester began a run of one win in six, and with three games left we clung to second place, the teams below snapping at our heels like rabid wolves with games in hand. It turned out that nothing less than three wins in a row – something we hadn’t managed since October – would be required for promotion. If this was the first crisis of the Taylor era, it was managed with characteristic sleeves-rolled-up bloody-mindedness, with nervy wins against Chester and at Hillsborough being followed by a cathartic release against Hull on a famous mid-May Monday night. To no one’s surprise, Blissett and Jenkins were both among the scorers in the 4-0 win.
Of the ten players with more than 30 appearances that season, seven remained from before Taylor’s arrival. Essentially, almost completely through his management skills, he’d turned a listless Fourth Division outfit into a Second Division one with momentum. It’s intriguing to think, however, what might have happened had we not won those last three games. It’s difficult to believe we wouldn’t have won promotion eventually, perhaps even the next season, but would we have had the impetus to carry us as far as we eventually got? Thankfully, we’ll never know.