SEPTEMBER 5, 1980: Football League Cup, Second Round, Second Leg. Watford 7, Southampton 1 (Watford win 7-5 on aggregate)

WATFORD fans, so satiated with success in recent years, were presented with an incredible football platter on Tuesday night which gagged, choked, numbed and finally consumed them to send everyone home in a delirium of delicious daydreams.

We have seen Holton and those marvellous times; there have been the near promotion misses; Liverpool have come and gone and returned and so too have Manchester United, both with varying but memorable results and more recently there have been the Stokes, Nottingham Forests and Wolves.

We've sampled the giddy heights of promotion nights against Plymouth, Hull and Scunthorpe but all of them, yes ,every one of them, paled into relative insignificance in comparison to this night of nights when the ultimate soccer fairytale was transformed by corporate will into a two-hour pulsating, mind-bending reality.

Those who missed it are already regretting their error - their ears battered by every minute detail to such a degree that in years to come, they will be able to pretend they were there with no-one being the wiser.

As Ross Jenkins put it, Roy of the Rovers came true. Yet it was more than that. It was pageant and colour, emotion and thrills aplenty as we watched while long-established football logistics were forever destroyed and tried to grapple and cope with the reality of the unbelievable.

Watford wrote themselves indelibly into the football record books with a performance that may never be matched, let alone exceeded. It was a result that echoed around the halls of football and in future will be held as a yardstick by the game's managers as they try to coax and cajole their sides into overcoming improbable mountains. No lead will ever again be regarded as sacrosanct and complacency may become a minor instead of familiar currency in this amazing game.

There has never been such a match. It was football's own Bob Beaman long jump and those who saw it will recall the goals, events, emotions and anecdotes with the same crystal clarity that many can reach remembering the time they heard war declared, or of Kennedy's assassination.

At 7.45pm, with some confidence, I may add, one settled down to the formality of Watford regaining their pride. Within 35 minutes that had been achieved but there, looming on the horizon, was this preposterous vision of a total comeback from four goals down to the League's joint leaders and team of the moment.

Around 10.30 one watched Lawrie McMenemy, standing like a man who has just suffered a harrowing bereavement, taking the blame and being spared by experienced pressmen from being asked to clarify the nature of his guilt.

Meanwhile, outside, his star-studded squad made a quiet but speedy exit to the coach, forced to miss out on the after-match ritual of drinks with the opposition, and travelled in deathly silence back to the south coast, each wrestling with his own shell-shocked thoughts before waking the next morning to face, with embarrassment, the football world after being on the wrong end of a sporting holocaust.

Southampton came a trifle complacent, noted the portents of disaster, attempted to avoid them but found themselves incapable of raising their game against a side that was running high on adrenalin and superbly executed tactics.

And, in the end, on the count of clear-cut chances, Southampton knew the incredible. Not only had they been kicked out of the competition but, in truth, they were let off lightly.

It was simple, direct football, the most radiant example of all that Graham Taylor believes in. "The telling forward ball, the pace, the crosses and without any player trying or needing to show that he was a bit clever. And none of your backwards, sideways football unless it was absolutely vital," said Taylor with pride.

Unfortunately this mercurial game does not really allow perfection to flow unless it is for short periods. Occasionally, however, unadulterated, uninterrupted brilliance does come to the top and never has there been such a case as on Tuesday night.

"It was as if all those missed chances, all those sickening one-goal defeats were saved and evened out," said Steve Harrison.

"We were owed goals at Luton, we were owed at Cambridge and we were owed a hatful against Bristol City," said Taylor who has long promised that one day, a side will "catch it" from Watford.

But it was not just one memorable night, but 12. There was Eric Steele making some brilliant saves, beaten only by a deflection and one fulminating shot against the woodwork by Charlie George.

There was Kenny Jackett at left back, coming through with still more honours and Mick Henderson, rising from the indifference to give a classy and resolute display, recapturing the heights of his opening form for the club.

Ray Train, midfield master, competing and creative; Martin Patching, the increasing revelation as he strikes his game and grows in stature and confidence; Wilf Rostron, tenacious and ingenious and Luther Blissett, still learning the wider craft, showing a voracious appetite for defensive and foraging work in the sort of atmosphere in which his football career burst forth: these constituted the engine room of this brilliant night, but a midfield which was more concerned with the support and drive forward than in retaining possession and blocking the opposition.

In the centre of defence Ian Bolton was majestic, revelling in the containment of two of the game's most effective strikers and dispatching the spot kick with the authority and power which stamped this whole Watford performance.

Up front Malcolm Poskett was so sharp, so hungry for the ball and so refreshingly competitive when the ball was not obviously his. And young Nigel Callaghan, the chirpy 17-year-old, who was lost for words, after making the dream substitute appearance, scoring with his first kick with a goal which confirmed that this was Watford's night.

But for me, two players shaded their colleagues in the marvellous team display. Ross Jenkins reaching his best ever as a Division Two striker, tore into this game as if bitter at missing the first leg and determined to make up for the omission. First Watson and then Nicholl took him on and lost as he and Poskett ran their diagonals, and pulled the Saints' defence into ragged desperation.

Dominant in the air, devastating his critics, Jenkins also threw in a handful of mazy dribbles, which would have had Scullion ogling with envy.

And, finally, Steve Sims. An uninitiated foreigner would have presumed that he and possibly Bolton were the only international pivots on view instead of their Southampton counterparts. Sims the colossus, the rock on which Southampton were grounded to pulp and one which threw them into orgasms of anxiety every time he took a long throw or stalked up for a corner with fists clenched tight to that barrel chest.

Southampton were reduced to the appearance of a side facing the reality of re-election. They were nothing and only an occasional spark provided a glimmer of the talent that has rocked the League.

They had some moments when Watford had almost dragged themselves to a state of emotional and physical bankruptcy at the end of the game. But somehow the energy was found to match them and we finished as if having watched a Watford fan's visit to TV's Fantasy Island.

There has never been such a night. Pity if you missed it.

Goals: Rostron corner, Jenkins flick-on, Posket volleys (10); Rostron lays the ball back for Train to hit from 16 yards (35); defender misclears cross to Patching who fires in (67); Baker's shot is going wide but deflects off Sims into net (73); Nicholl fouls Jenkins in box and Bolton converts penalty (74); Jenkins drills low angled shot following Poskett's challenge (83); substitute Callaghan rockets in shot off underside of bar with first touch after Jenkins' effort is blocked (103); Poskett stumbles past the keeper and prods home (115).

Attendance: 15,992

Referee: Brian Martin

Corners: Watford 14, Southampton 5

Free kicks: Watford 19, Southampton 23

Times offside: Watford 10, Southampton 15

Bookings: Baker (Southampton) for foul on Henderson 73 minutes

Goal attempts on target (off target): Watford 10 (10), Southampton 4 (10)

Watford goal attempts by: Jenkins (5), Poskett (4), Patching (3), Rostron (2), Train (2), Simms (1), Bolton (1), Callaghan (1), Blissett (1)

Watford's man of the match: Them all, but Jenkins and Sims a shade ahead

Watford: Steele; Henderson; Sims; Bolton; Jackett; Blissett; Patching; Train; Rostron; Poskett; Jenkins. Substitute: Callaghan for Train after 92 minutes

Southampton: Katalinic; Waldron; McCartney; Williams; Watson; Nicholl; Hebberd; Channon; George; Holmes; Baker Substitute: Moran for George after 99 minutes