Football: Taylor gives Hornets same old sting

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WHAT AN astonishing story it would be if Graham Taylor's Watford managed to return to the Premiership.

The former England manager, back at the place where his managerial career took off, has got his Watford side back on the path to the Premiership after a dip in form at the turn of the year. Maximum points from their last two fixtures will guarantee a play-off spot.

Victory at Port Vale on Tuesday night helped Watford leapfrog their First Division rivals Bolton and Wolves to go sixth. A trip to Barnsley and a home game with Grimsby stand between Taylor and the play-off lottery which may provide the ultimate resurrection for the manager whose reputation, founded at Vicarage Road more than 20 years ago, was torn to shreds on the international scene.

Taylor's career has been packed with incident since he left Watford in 1987 bound for Aston Villa and then, of course, England in 1990. The England dream turned sour with a poor showing at the 1992 European Championships in Sweden and failing to qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. A short spell at Wolves did not bring the quick fix the Midlanders had demanded and so it was back to team up again with his pop star chairman, Elton John, in the hope of stirring Watford from their slumbers.

A repeat of the glory days when the Hornets stormed through the leagues, into the top flight in 1982 and Europe a year later, seemed far-fetched but an eyebrow or two are now being raised at Vicarage Road. The fans' favourite, Tommy Mooney, is in the form of his life and is relishing the challenge as Watford ride the crest of a wave towards the play-offs, which he rightly says are all about the form team in May. Two goals against Port Vale, last night made it six in five games for the former Scarborough player and gave Taylor's side their sixth successive win.

"I've never had a month like it, certainly not at this level of football," said Mooney. "I've scored a few important goals but the team has done well as a whole and we deserve to be where we are. I like scoring but I'm pleased when anybody scores a goal as long as we win."

Mooney's double helped Watford to a 2-1 win at Vale Park to keep their play-off charge on target and leave Port Vale in the relegation mire. "Going to Port Vale with them scrapping for their lives was always going to be difficult for us. There were a few incidents in the game and we had to cope with that as well," Mooney said.

Vale were furious when a tackle from Watford's Paul Robinson broke Stuart Talbot's leg with the score at 1-1. The Vale midfielder was carried off, Robinson escaped with a booking and Mooney went on to score the winner on the hour to the delight of the travelling fans. Mooney added: "Our fans were great. I'm lucky to have a special relationship with them and long may that continue."

With Mooney and Watford heading for the play-offs in scintillating form, history could repeat it itself for Taylor. And no one could deny him a smile of satisfaction if he steers the Hornets back to the top flight for the first time since 1988.