You need luck and a relatively injury-free squad if you are going to turn round a season when you inherit a team six points adrift of the rest of the division. Graham Taylor had neither of those key ingredients in the spring of 1996.

The Hornets had lost the services of Kevin Phillips with a hairline fracture, which was a significant blow particularly for a squad noticeably short of goalscoring potential.

In that regard, Jamie Moralee, probably the biggest white elephant of Watford’s 1990s, exacerbated a groin injury and was out for a further stint, as was their ace goalkeeper, Kevin Miller, later in the run-in.

The victory over Oldham Athletic ended a sequence of one triumph in 15 matches at Vicarage Road and two wins in 26 home and away games.

The signs were promising with a four-game unbeaten run, which included that defeat of Oldham, but then luck went against Graham.

The Hornets were given no chance to achieve anything more than a defeat at the Baseball Ground when they took on Jim Smith’s table-topping Derby County, who were to win promotion that season. Yet Taylor had worked his squad well and aided by a goal by defender Colin Foster, Watford looked set to cause the upset of their particular season. However, the referee made a chronic mistake. He penalised and booked Robert Page for a foul that never was. He admitted as much when he rescinded the booking but was unable to rectify his mistaken decision to award County a penalty.

Smith was to admit his side got off the hook, but the experience unsettled the Hornets whose confidence was naturally low. They obtained a credible draw but not the three points they deserved and indeed desperately needed to put some fat around their unbeaten run.

Graham did not make much of it at the time but he was extremely disappointed. To win away at one of the two best teams in the division would have been a big boost. The extra two points would have been useful because, despite drawing at home to West Bromwich Albion, they found themselves recording five draws in what was a six-game unbeaten run.

I always though that referee’s mistake was pivotal and argued just that at the time. You need victories to climb out of trouble and Watford had one unfairly snatched from their certain grasp.

Another late goal from Craig Ramage, won Watford a point at home to the Baggies. Rambo looked sleeker and fitter but was it an optical illusion? It could have been because in keeping with the Taylor edict long-established at Vicarage Road, all players played with their shirt tucked inside their shorts. Rambo looked smarter and sleeker.

The Hornets were gaining more points than would have been expected when the run-in was viewed back in the weeks before Glenn Roeder was sacked. But it was another draw, not three points. They were still in the mire despite looking a far more efficient outfit.

Graham telephoned the referee after he rescinded Page’s booking at Derby and thanked him. “To admit your mistake and rescind the red card is the least we deserved but the two points we lost as a result of his decision seven minutes from time,” cannot be regained. “Think how much better the table would look with us having two more points,” Graham reflected.

The writing, which had long been on the wall, became even larger when they lost at home to one of the sides they needed to catch – Portsmouth.

It was a particularly bad day for the Hornets as Elton John paid one his rare visits to Vicarage Road. The former chairman was not in the best of moods as his chauffer was told to go and park down the very bottom of Occupation Road before the match. It was a hamfisted handling of the welcome back to the man who had bankrolled the building of the then Rous Stand as well as financed the greatest era in the club’s history.

When Elton saw hooliganism rear its head with Portsmouth supporters spilling onto the pitch, the memories of what had been clashed with the reality of the day. Elton walked out long before the final whistle. Watford tried to deny there was any slight intended or an adverse reaction from Elton but Graham knew differently.

Victory over Portsmouth would have helped but Watford compounded their defeat with a 1-1 draw at Southend United and so another two games went by without them making a significant dent on the table.

Graham would argue with the media man Ed Coan, who was brought back into the fold, after being eased out in the years following Taylor’s previous departure.

Ed had picked up the Watford vibes when he had joined the club back in 1984 and was a key component. His services were to be dispensed with again when the awful Graham Simpson-Mark Ashton reign began to gather momentum, as the Hornets again lost their way as to what the club had been all about.

Graham’s beef was noted in passing: he did not believe the Watford results should be added to his record, because it was not his team. It was true he had inherited a truly struggling side but the records stood.

Relegation looked almost certain but Watford produced another rally, recording a 5-2 home win over Port Vale and a 4-2 victory over Reading. Victories and six points were welcome but it was all a little too late.

Their chances would have been better had they had those two points at Derby, but a 0-0 draw to relegation certainties Luton Town really wrapped it all up.

Victory there would have given them hope but another draw only underlined the problem that had dogged them all season: a lack of a cutting edge.

They were to finish four points from survival, despite a memorable David Connolly-inspired victory at Norwich City, and some 20,089 fans attended the match at Vicarage Road to see Leicester City win with the only goal of the game to confirm Watford’s drop.