GRAHAM TAYLOR never did get to savour that "top of the world" feeling in football management. Indeed, in his troubled term of national service he never even experienced that "in the World Cup" feeling.
Five years on from Rotterdam, Ronald Koeman and rotten referees, the top of the First Division table proved a managerial peak too far for Taylor on Wearside last night. The former England manager endured another tortuous time at pitch-side as his Watford team, having opened the season with three wins, failed to gain the point they required to assume pole position in the early-season Nationwide pecking order.
For 25 minutes the Taylor-made Hornets were buzzing. By the end of the 90th minute, though, they were stung by a result which put their ultimately rampant hosts at the top of the First Division tree.
A Sunderland victory of any description seemed unlikely in the extreme as Watford took an early grip in midfield, courtesy of Micah Hyde and their man from Newcastle (Newcastle, New South Wales, that is), Richard Johnson. The pair combined on the right edge of the Sunderland penalty area to leave Allan Smart with a close range side-footed finish that gave Watford a 10th-minute lead they threatened to build upon.
"Taylor for England!" the Watford followers mischievously mooted, though they suffered predominantly in silence once Sunderland sparked to life. Allan Johnston provided the inspiration, curling a right-foot shot past Alec Chamberlain from the left angle of the Watford penalty area.
Chamberlain, No 1 on the Sunderland team-sheet in their First Division championship-winning campaign three seasons ago, was beaten twice more before half-time. Nicky Summerbee crashed a 20 yard free-kick past him in the 41st minute and then, in first-half injury time, Daniele Dichio headed in from close range - his fifth goal of the season.
Having spent half-time pondering how his players managed to turn a 1- 0 cruise into a 1-3 calamity, Taylor watched Smart squander an early opportunity to launch a second-half salvage operation. When Andy Melville rose to head Sunderland's fourth, with 63 minutes on the clock, there was no way back for Watford, no matter how much Taylor tinkered with his team.
His only consolation was keeping Kevin Phillips, whom he sold to Sunderland last summer, off the score-sheet. But Taylor took his latest managerial blow with admirable magnanimity.
"I could argue that we were a bit unfortunate," he said, "but the truth is the steamroller that is Sunderland was too much for us."
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorenson; Williams, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Ball, Mullin, Johnston; Phillips, Dichio (Smith, 83). Substitutes not used: Craddock, Thirlwell.
Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Palmer, Yates, Page, Robinson; Bazeley (Hazan, 45), Johnson, Hyde (Daley, 77), Kennedy; Smart (Noel-Williams, 63), Ngonge.
Referee: P Richards (Preston).