Football: Second coming for Taylor

First Division play-off final: Watford reach Premiership for the first time thanks to goals from two astute signings
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Bolton Wanderers 0 Watford 2

GRAHAM TAYLOR left Wembley a winner again last night - and as a Premiership manager to boot. The man who endured vilification beyond the call of duty there during his time in charge of England guided Watford to a second successive promotion, their First Division play-off final win over Bolton coming courtesy of two players Taylor all but stole from Carlisle last summer.

They know a thing or two about about fairy-tale finishes in the Cumbrian city, of course, although Watford did not require anything quite as far- fetched as Jimmy Glass's status-saving strike to ensure their return to the level they left 11 years ago. Nick Wright and Allan Smart, recruited for a total of pounds 250,000, struck late in either half to bring Taylor leaping from what is traditionally the England bench, punching the air in vindicated joy.

At the end, however, Taylor's reaction to leading Watford into the top flight, just as he did in 1982, was characteristically dignified. As the outstanding Wright led the players in a delirious dance, and their chairman, Sir Elton John, struggled to hold back the tears in his live satellite link from Seattle, Taylor turned and blew a kiss towards the Royal Box. While some in the adjacent press area wondered whether it was an ironic gesture aimed at his former tormentors, the sight of Taylor's wife, Rita, waving back disabused them of such notions.

When the celebrations finally subside, Taylor must begin strengthening a squad that cost barely pounds 1m. Watford's fans, parochial to a fault, sang "Are you watching, Luton Town?" but their club now have bigger fish to fry. Sir Elton, who recently railed against the "obscene amounts of money" which separate the "minnows" and "sharks" of the English game, must none the less be aware that seven of the last 10 clubs promoted via the play- offs have come straight back down.

The Wembley turf, where Taylor has now presided over 10 victories and just two defeats in 17 matches, has been trimmed in an elaborate pattern, reminiscent of corn circles. Yet anyone hoping for something as other- worldly as Manchester City's comeback 24 hours earlier was to be disappointed. Bolton, making their sixth appearance at the stadium in 13 years, were marginally the better side before falling behind, only to waste their scoring opportunities.

After 13 minutes, Michael Johansen blazed the ball across goal after Steve Palmer's last-ditch challenge had nicked the ball away from Eidur Gudjohnsen. When a quickly taken free-kick caught Watford napping and Paul Robinson missed his clearance, Gudjohnsen stabbed wide. And when the Icelander did hit the target, after Robbie Elliott's free-kick broke off the defensive wall to give him a clear sight of the net from 10 yards, Alec Chamberlain fell to his right to parry.

Watford had been gradually working their way into the contest, with Micah Hyde working tirelessly in midfield and Peter Kennedy's cultured left foot probing Bolton's defences from both flanks. The carelessness of Andy Todd, the manager's son, allowed Wright to send Michel Ngonge racing clear but Steve Banks left his area to tackle him, and Watford had still to trouble the goalkeeper before the Carlisle connection came good for the first time.

A 38th-minute corner, curled in from the right by Kennedy, cleared the pack massed at the near post before hitting the unsighted Todd on the head. As the ball dropped, eight yards out, Wright launched himself into an overhead kick which belied his pounds 100,000 price tag. His shot carried too much power for either Banks or Neil Cox to stop as it tore high into the net. After a moment's hesitation, to check there was no linesman's flag waiting to mock him, Taylor joined the rejoicing.

Once in front, Watford were far more assured, with the centre-back pairing of Robert Page and Steve Palmer keeping a tighter rein on Gudjohnsen and Bob Taylor. Until the final minutes, indeed, the most dramatic goalmouth action at either end came when a streaker, wearing only a yellow and red permed wig, was forcibly restrained in Banks' six-yard box as Bolton pressed forward unconvincingly in the opposite half.

The interloper was led away trussed up in silver foil, like a Christmas turkey, but Bolton could muster little to dampen the festive spirit among his fellow supporters. Content to play on the break, with Wright invariably involved on the right wing, Watford actually created the better chances. Tommy Mooney, freed by Taylor as a teenager at Aston Villa, sent a header only inches wide, while Kennedy's unnecessarily hurried drive passed close to the same upright.

The second goal, following a classic counter-attack in the 89th minute, came with all but one Bolton defender laying siege to Chamberlain's goal. Hyde released Kennedy on the left, and his typically accurate low cross was powered beyond Banks from 15 yards by the outside of Smart's right boot. The Hertfordshire hordes were exultant, and there were doubtless a few knowing smiles up in the League's most northerly outpost, too.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Banks; Cox, Todd, Fish, Elliott; Johansen, Jensen, Frandsen, Gardner (Hansen, 90); Taylor, Gudjohnsen. Substitute not used: Bergsson.

Watford (4-3-3): Chamberlain; Bazeley, Palmer, Page, Robinson; Hyde, Johnson (Sellars, 66), Kennedy; Wright (Hazan, 87), Ngonge (Smart, 75), Mooney. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Referee: T Heilbron (Co Durham).

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