There was much deliberation about Graham Taylor’s League Cup team and his league team that included the three new recruits – Steve Harrison, Ray Train and Steve Sims. Watford progressed from their Old Trafford victory to beat Exeter City away, Stoke City in a replay at Vicarage Road, before taking on Nottingham Forest in the two-leg semi-final.

The Hornets suffered three e draws in four games in the league in early December 1978 and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Southend United. But the Hornets began to falter seriously when they lost the first leg at Forest, going down 3-1. They had taken the lead through Luther Blissett, fallen 2-1 behind and then had hit the bar and seen the chance to level the scores bounce back. Forest raced up the other end and scored their third.

Brian Clough’s side paid Watford the ultimate compliment by killing the second leg and forcing a goalless draw. Clough was probably mindful of the fact Watford had become quite formidable opposition under lights at Vicarage Road. They had vanquished Newcastle United and Stoke City in what can be argued as the first of many special nights at home. Graham and his squad built the ground into something of a psychological fortress for visiting teams and the crowd backed up the impression. It became such a trait, Watford’s fans could scent blood long before the teams took the field under the club’s recently updated floodlights.

Yet between the visit to Forest and the return at Vicarage Road, Watford experienced a shock when 3-0 up at home to Bury, they conceded three goals and had to settle for a 3-3 draw. It was not the sort of setback the Hornets had ever experienced under Taylor and it punctured that feeling of invincibility. OK, the three newest transfer recruits played in that game but while one could not lay the blame at their door, the fact the cup team, without the trio, had done so well and led the division, was cited as one of the reasons for the wobble.

That wobble began to develop into an actual shake as Watford were held to five draws on the bounce, enabling the opposition to close at the top of the table. Further, whenever they took the lead at home, you could feel the sense of unease among the spectators: would they lose it as they did against Bury?

After a home win, they picked up two points out of a possible six back in the day when two points were awarded for a win.

Graham did impart an observation at the time that it might not be a bad thing just to gain promotion as opposed to winning a championship for the second successive season.

“There would be a blessing if we just scraped it in the end because people (critics) would have had their pound of flesh seeing us knocked off the top,” he said.

Three defeats and two draws in six games reduced the Hornets to also-rans including a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Colchester United on Good Friday.

They rescued a point at promotion rivals and eventual champions Shrewsbury Town the following day after which Graham informed the world: “I am already at the Third Division winning post. If necessary I will have to reach back and drag them over the line.”

In the subsequent long-ball controversy, Watford’s critics might have had a point if they had taken in the Hornets’ run in and stagger towards the finishing line.

At Swindon Town, who boasted former Hornet Alan Mayes, Watford lost to their promotion rivals 2-0 and their attempts to save the game were a parody of football as they hit the ball forward more in hope than belief. The confidence had drained from the side.

A further defeat followed, this time at Carlisle United and while waiting in the team coach for the manager to join the squad for the quick journey to the station, Harrison came on and claimed I was pleased with the defeat because it gave me another chance to “cut” with my pen. Other players told him to “can it” and later, when undertaking a personal view of the campaign, I put Harrison on the coach at Carlisle as being among the most impressive away performances.

On the night of the Watford Observer Awards at Bailey’s club captain Sam Ellis came up to me and asked if I could make my peace with Steve. I admired Sam for that and Steve came over and shook my hand. I told him I was not fazed by his dislike of my reports and observations but I did not like the suggestion that I enjoyed putting in the knife.

I had other run-ins over the years: Luca Vialli, Jack Petchey and a somewhat mild but publicised difference of opinion expressed by Steve Perryman. I reflect on those and do not regret my stance for none of them were successful at Watford. Incidentally, I thoroughly enjoyed Perryman’s company and we got on well.

Then again, Taylor had a pop at me a couple of times in the early days and treated me with a little reserve until after the Hornets gained promotion to the top flight.

After that the relationship moved up a couple of gears and by the time Petchey sent a memo to staff enquiring if it would be best to ban me from the ground, it was Graham who made it clear such a move would be unwise and later told me in confidence, it would be totally unjustified.

“You are writing the truth,” he said.

There are times when such reassurance is welcome, especially when it come from someone you respect.