Twenty-four years ago, Watford were preparing for a season that was to be forever etched on the memories of those that witnessed it.

Under the stewardship of Graham Taylor, his coaches Kenny Jackett, Luther Blissett and Tom Walley, and with a group of players that had developed bonds that still stand strong today, the Hornets would end the season with promotion to the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history.

That would include victory at Wembley – another first – in the Play-Off Final, that led to an open-top bus parade and several visits to the pond in the High Street for the fans.

However, it was far from straightforward. A run of one win in eight games from February had left the Hornets looking distinctly mid-table, and when they were a goal down at home to Tranmere on April 3 with less than 30 minutes to go, promotion was but a dream. However, two goals and two red cards in a frantic finale inspired a 2-1 Watford victory and hope, albeit not in large portions, still remained.

That game started a run of six straight victories, and 22 points from a possible 24 in the final eight match of the regular season which catapulted the Hornets into the play-offs. At the heart of that run was striker Tommy Mooney, already a firm fans favourite but who by May 1999 had moved into the legendary category. He scored in each of the next six games – here he talks through those games, his goals...and what came after.

Birmingham 1 Watford 2 (Mooney 26, Daley 58)

“That day we were late arriving at the stadium. We’d been staying at The Belfry and the traffic was horrendous. Tony Daley was in the team and as an ex-Villa player he got loads of grief from the home fans from the minute we arrived. That took some pressure off the rest of us to be fair. We’d won the famous Tranmere game two days before with all the antics that went on in terms of red cards, and the Birmingham game actually felt relatively relaxed. I remember the goal clearly because Daley put a ball into the box and I knew I was going to get a punch in the face but I had to get on the end of it. Sure enough I felt the full force of their keeper Kevin Poole but I saw the ball go in the net and then it doesn’t hurt. I then returned the favour in the second half and dinked one over for Dales to head in. I know people talk about the Tranmere game being the catalyst for the run that took us to Wembley, but I always felt it was the Birmingham game. The gaffer had found his team and we had found a way to win games.”

Watford Observer:

Mooney celebrates his goal at Birmingham

Watford 2 (Hyde 24, Mooney 53) Bolton 0

“I missed a penalty in the first half. When I missed penalties the only emotion I felt was embarrassment. I knew I’d get another chance so it didn’t dent my confidence, it was just embarrassing. In fact, if I missed a chance it didn’t ever knock my confidence because I believed that I’d score the next one. The goal was exactly the sort of goal a successful team should score, because it came out of hard work on the training ground and strong relationships with your teammates. Darren Bazeley and I used to work on the same thing day after day. He knew I was never going to make a front-post run if he was out wide, so he knew I’d be making my move at the back post. That’s where he put the ball and I attacked it really well. I always felt I was more accurate with my head than I was with my feet, certainly than with my right foot. The ball was in the air a long time and I got the flight of it really well."

Crewe 0 Watford 1 (Mooney 24)

“I think Michel Ngonge had got a knock and so I played up front with Guy Whittingham. It was a scrappy game I seem to recall. The goal came when Paul Robinson played the ball into me near the edge of the box, and I just took a touch and hit it. I didn’t hit it very well, in fact it was a scuff and that probably helped me beat the keeper. That was probably the day when within the squad all the boys were thinking we were going to go up.”

Watford 2 (Hyde 6, Mooney 53) Crystal Palace 1

“Ah, that’s the goal where it’s come from a free kick and literally hit me in the face. We’d worked so hard on that free-kick in training and in games. It was one we had done over and over again. Michel would usually make a run in front of me, I’d make my run towards the middle of the goal and one of the centre halves would be making a run behind me. This time the ball bounced back up, somebody got a touch and suddenly the ball was right in front of my eyes. It was like a two-inch putt in golf. I just stubbed it. I was three yards out and the ball was on my head. I didn’t miss those with my head. I might have missed it with my feet but not with my head.”

Watford Observer:

Mooney in action against Crystal Palace

Port Vale 1 Watford 2 (Mooney 24, 60)

“You can probably say those two goals were trademark Mooney goals. The first one Robbo cut the ball back and I didn’t really try to hit it, I more tried to stun it and keep it low. Because of the goals in the previous games I knew I’d get chances and I was feeling really confident. When that first goal went in at Port Vale I had a feeling I’d never had before – I thought to myself that everything I had worked so hard for in the previous ten years was now going to pay off in the next month. The second one I know I should have scored at the first attempt but I got it on target and the keeper made a save. I got up and got to the rebound quicker than the defender. There was no way I was getting beaten to that loose ball.”

Barnsley 2 Watford 2 (Ngonge 43, Mooney 67)

“I can re-run that goal in my mind. One of their defenders has gone to hoof the ball away and I’ve dived in. I could see his boot coming straight for my face and I’ve half turned my head. The ball actually went in off the back of my head. Not that I cared, because it was in front of the Watford fans and I could see my Dad and my brother-in-law in the crowd. I was a yard out and all I had to do was get a touch on it. I was in the six-yard box and that’s where strikers get paid. They got a late equaliser but it didn’t dent our confidence because by then it was in our hands. Throughout that run of games we knew the key thing was not to lose. We’d gone to Barnsley, we’d not lost and our destiny was still in our own hands.”

And destiny took the Hornets all the way to the promised land of the Premier League, although there was still the drama of the penalties after the play-off second leg at Birmingham to come.

Mooney said: “From the moment the whistle went in that Tranmere game where we’d won and had Johnno and Smarty sent off, to the final whistle going at Wembley, the only moment I can remember thinking things might not go our way was when Dele Adebola equalised for Birmingham in the second leg at St Andrews.

“It was only about six minutes in and the noise in the stadium for those six minutes had been massive. But when that goal went in, the noise reached levels I’ve never heard in any stadium anywhere in the world, as a player or as a fan. I remember trying to scream at Peter Kennedy that we just needed to stay calm and keep the ball. He was ten yards away from me, and I couldn’t hear my own voice never mind Pete knowing what I was trying to say.”

However, St Andrews was a lot, lot quieter later that night when Alec Chamberlain saved Chris Holland’s penalty in the shoot-out to send Watford to Wembley.

That was a day no Hornet will ever forget – but for Mooney, there is one moment in that 2-0 win over Bolton which nags away at him.

“I’d scored those seven goals in six games during the run-in, but then I missed my chanced to score at Wembley. Midway through the second half Micah got space out on the right and sent in a great cross. I knew the defender had gone under the ball and I tried to be clever with my header. I was attempting to be too precise. I thought for a split second I’d scored at Wembley but it went wide.

“I paused for a second or two afterwards because I knew that was my chance to score at Wembley. I’d not had a chance all game. I’d worked my backside off for the team but I’d not really had a sight of goal. All through that run of games at the end of the season, I just kept telling myself to hit the target. That got me those seven goals. Then at Wembley, perhaps for one of very few times in that run, I didn’t hit the target. I was so annoyed and frustrated with myself.

“It was a dream come true and I had no reason to ever expect to play at Wembley before or after that day. I used to go to Wembley with my Dad to watch Liverpool in cup finals. It was such a big thing for me and my family that I was playing at Wembley. I loved scoring goals, I was realising a dream of playing at Wembley and I had a great chance to score that I didn’t take. I was fed up about that for ages.”