Archive for October, 1998

Bristol Rovers 3 Walsall 4

roger6 @ 6:44 pm Saturday 31 October 1998

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Green, Viveash
Wrack, Lambert, Keates, Larusson, Brissett, Rammell

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Matchfacts

Walsall recovered from a nightmare start at a rainsoaked Memorial Stadium. Rovers looking to extend their unbeaten home run to nine games had top scorer Barry Hayles back after a one match suspension and the marksman wasted no time making his mark, providing the first and taking his seasons tally to eight goals a minute later. The homeside were reduced to ten men because of an injury to Robert Trees and Walsall took full advantage, coming from behind with a dramatic late burst
GOALS

1-0 Bristol Rovers 3 mins Cureton
an easy tap-in at the far post following a Barry Hayles pass

2-0 Bristol Rovers 4 mins Hayles
Cureton’s long ball caused confusion between Viveash and the ‘keeper allowing the striker to round Walker and slot home from ten yards 

2-1 Walsall 29 mins Larusson
followed up on Brissett’s shot to send a powerful right-footed drive into the middle of the goal

2-2 Walsall 44 mins Smith
turned the ball into his own net whilst trying to clear Neil Pointon’s low cross from the left

3-2 Bristol Rovers 50 mins Hayles
latched on to Keates’ free-kick to turn on the edge of the box and send a delightful left-footed drive into the right-hand corner of the net

3-3 Walsall 80 mins Rammell
a close range header following a cross from Brissett wide on the left

3-4 Walsall 89 mins Larusson
met Lambert’s deep cross to send a low right-footed drive into the far corner from 12 yards out

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Express & Star

At this rate they had better find a seat for Cilla Black on the Bescot board, because it’s certainly been a case of surprise surprise from Ray Graydon’s men so far this season.
A surprising start to the season has seen Saddlers emerge as surprising promotion contenders, and now – given the stunning impact Graydon has made in such a short space of time – the only surprise would be if they faded away.

Each week we turn up half expecting this about-turn in fortunes – don’t forget this is a club who just avoided the drop last season – to finally splutter and stop. But, surprise surprise, it’s just not happening.

And, on the evidence of a quite incredible game at a sodden Memorial Ground, there seems little chance of a sudden fall from grace for the Bescot battlers.

It had, for a brief moment, looked as if the wheels were about to come off big-time’ on Saturday. Two down after five horror minutes fit for Halloween, having lost 4-1 at Fulham the previous week and only managing a 1-1 draw with Colchester prior to that.

You could almost hear the pessimists saying: “That’s more like it. I told you it was just a flash in the pan, knew it wouldn’t last.”

Well now is the time for the positive vibes to start surfacing. The Bescot faithful have got a side packed with belief and character and they can also play a bit.

The 400 or so visiting Saddlers fans will testify to that after witnessing a breath-taking display of forward play.

Okay, the early defending may have been desperate, but that just added to the entertainment factor.

After gifting a Rovers side unbeaten at home this season two of the simplest goals you are ever likely to see, Walsall woke up and tore into the West Country side.

Chances were created and squandered as the attacking menace of Jamie Lambert, Jason Brissett, Darren Wrack and a fit-again Andy Rammell caused no end of problems for the home defence.

Walsall were not too steady themselves at the back against the pace and power of Barry Hayles and Guy Ipoua, but slowly and surely tightened things up as the game wore on.

Once the excellent Bjarni Larusson had dragged Saddlers back into the game with a stunning first goal for the club, you sensed there was more to follow.

Wrack and Brissett came close to levelling matters before another sweeping attacking foray ended with Mark Smith turning Neil Pointon’s low cross past his own keeper to put Walsall deservedly back on equal terms.

Even the concession of a third goal, a piece of master class finishing from Hayles, five minutes into the second period wasn’t going to deny Graydon’s men.

Once gain they dug deep and with Larusson and Dean Keates orchestrating things from the middle of the park the chances continued to flow.

A series of strange substitutions from Rovers’ player-manager Ian Holloway also helped the visitors’ cause especially when, having used all three subs, defender Robert Trees was stretchered off leaving Rovers to play the last 10 minutes or so with 10 men.

By then Rammell had marked his return by heading home his ninth of the season from Brissett’s pinpoint centre while keeper James Walker had made up for his earlier misdemeanour by producing a magnificent save to deny Jamie Cureton a second goal.

It was fitting that it was Larusson, the game’s best performer, who had the final say. He rounded off a remarkable afternoon by steering home a right foot shot a minute from time.

Now Saddlers, who are just two points behind leaders Stoke, face successive home games against Millwall on Saturday and Lincoln the following Tuesday. Top spot could be within their grasp. Now that would be a surprise.

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Bristol Rovers website
Sensational game at Bristol Rovers on Saturday, full report and reaction to follow, but here is the report from the Bristol Rovers website. Listen to the real audio report at: http://www.btinternet.com/~uk/BRFC/media/rov3wal4.ram

Only three goals have been scored in our last three matches, so the seven goal thriller witnessed in the pouring rain at the Mem this afternoon may have come as a pleasent shock to many, all be it the crucial goal went in Walsall’s favour. And with five successive home clean sheets going into the match who would of thought it possible that we’d allow Walsall to find the back of the net four times in the last 60 minutes of the game. But that’s what happened and what’s done is done. Our unbeaten home record dies a sorry death for this season, and we’ll now have to wait and see how the players react on the pitch next weekend to see if we can take any positives out of this game yet.

The last time we conceded goals at the Mem this season was also under comeback circumstances, when Preston fought back from two goals down to take a point off us nearly two months ago. Since then it’s almost seemed like the days of ‘Fortress Twerton’ – today though clearly showed that we are still a long way mentally, but probably not physically, from being someone who can compete with the automatic promotion challengers.

Referee: P.Danson (7) – let the game flow in poor conditions

With a potential rain storm forecasted to hit the Bristol area over Friday and Saturday it was a surprise to many that the overnight down pour had halted around early morning, and other than a few showers here and there it would remain relatively dry up to kick-off. Even last night’s rugby match couldn’t cause enough damage to the pitch to warrant any form of pitch inspection before kick-off.

So after purchasing the matchday programme and the excellent fanzine ‘The Second Of May’ (and I’m not just saying that because I’m quoted in it – page 25, right column, second paragraph!) it was time for the big kick-off. The away end was filled and the home section looked sparse, mainly due to predicted rain which did eventually hit us just minutes into the game.

But amazingly by the time we did get the first spits from above we were already two goals ahead! The first came on just three minutes from Jamie Cureton as Ipoua’s storming run through the Walsall defence led to Bazza’s touch on and JC’s finish from a matter of yards. The second arrived a minute later as Cureton’s ball through the middle humorously found Bazza with an open goal to shoot into after Walsall’s goalkeeper and defender collided when either could have cleared the danger.

We were running the Saddlers’ defence ragged and it could have been 3-0 a further minute into the game when Leoni’s ball into the area flew past Meaker, who was just an inch away from knocking home from no more than five yards out. Ipoua then went one-on-one but his final touch enabled the keeper to collect. But no one was worried, after all we were still 2-0 up no problems, and the analysis of the first few minutes would show that if we continued we would have been into double figures before half time!

The turning point of the game though coincided to a treat with the downpour which would begin at 3:10 and, well, is still going strong as I write this report! All of a sudden Walsall looked a different team as they started to create chances of their own instead of just admiring ours. Jonesy was called into action on numerous occasions to prevent a early blemish to his proud run of clean sheets.

Walsall’s opening goal then came on the 29 minute mark. Foster made a god-like tackle to prevent Darren Wrack from scoring when he looked to be clear of the defence. But from the corner the ball fell for Larusson who drilled the ball home via Jones’s finger tips with a rasping first time effort from outside the box.

2-1 and all to play for, and despite a couple of openings at the other end of the field it would be Walsall who would find the net next. Brissett sent Pointon clear and after beating Jones at an angle he tried to lay the ball off to an incoming team-mate. It was Mark Smith who came hairing back in an attempt to clear the danger but his miscued clearance ended up in the back of the net to the disbelief of the Clubhouse Terrace faithful, who had witnessed the two goal advantage we once had evaporate completely in the final 15 minutes of the opening period.

Half time came as a welcome relief. Surely now Ollie could get the players sorted ready for the second half, as we looked to once again build up a lead. And there was to be a 50% repeat of the dramatics which highlighted the first period. A goal which would well and truely signal to the rest of the country that Bazza is back. Rob Trees’ 50th minute free kick was half only half cleared, so Hayles then swept a left footed volley into the corner from outside the penalty box.

Back in front again, but this time could we maintain our lead? Ha! What do you reckon? But had Cureton’s blistering effort from 20 yards crept in it could of easily been a different story, but the fact was it went a few mili-metres the wrong side of the post, and Walsall still knew a repeat of the first half climax would see them home with three more points.

As the second half settled down into an even contest it was no surprise to see all three substitutes used in quick succession to replace tired legs with fresh ones. Roberts made his return to the side from the substitutes bench as he switched with Ipoua, who’s hard work had clearly drained him and was looking nothing like the menace he was in the opening thirty minutes.

Jones made another fine save with his feet after Wrack found space in the area. Then back at the other end Bazza tried his luck from the edge of the penalty box, but as he looked for his first ever gas hat-trick, Walker in goal looked equally comfortable with the save.

Walsall were now looking the better of the sides and when Rammell headed home from a couple of yards to put the Saddlers back in a potential point gaining situation, it came to no surprise to the home fans massed behind the goal. It was wet… no – very wet, and I think everyone all around would have settled for a point each and a warm cup of tea back in a dry place.

But there was still chances for both sides to win it. Roberts made his way into the area and when his cut back found Cureton unmarked from twelve yards out those that didn’t duck for cover saw a cracking drive force an excellent save from Walker.

Rob Trees was carried off on a stretcher with five minutes to go after picking up a leg injury, which he should recover from in time for the trip to Fulham in seven days time. Having used all our subs though we were down to ten men yet again, so Ollie dropped to right-back leaving Zabek alone in midfield.

There was still one final twist in the tail to come though. In the 89th minute Lambert dealt up a sickening blow when his cross picked out Larusson to a treat. There was only one place that ball was going – past Jones and into the back of the net. 4-3, and totally unbelievable. The remaining minutes would see Walsall time waste near the corner flag, and with every one of our players back behind the ball there was no chance of a last gasp equaliser. However one brief spur forward resulted in the predictable loss of possession before the ball was chipped into the area. The full time whistle then sounded – it was three more points dropped.

Make no doubt about it, this 4-3 defeat will come as a bitter blow to us as we looked to continue a recent run of good form. But it’s too early to start panicing yet, after all most fans are probably not expecting much, if anything from next week’s trip to now second place Fulham. So if we can somehow take the full three points next weekend then the delight from that result will surely cancel out negative feelings from the match just gone. However, if we fail to pick up anything next week too though, then we panic!

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Fulham defeat

roger6 @ 6:46 pm Monday 26 October 1998

YOU had to feel sorry for Walsall’s loyal sprinkling of fans exposed to the elements on the open terracing, 16 umbrellas between them. After a feckless start, their side fought tooth and nail in a storming end-to-end second half, but were overcome by a rampant Fulham. It was a typical Kevin Keegan match.
In the first half, Walsall invited trouble by sitting deep, allowing Fulham’s back five to patiently build moves or saunter forward at their leisure. Fulham were livelier, quicker and sharper in the tackle and had clearly decided the foul conditions were not going to prevent them playing football.

The Walsall army had to live off meagre first-half rations, their flickering moments of hope being swallowed by a poor final ball or an offside flag. Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor did not have to raise as much as an eyebrow until the 36th minute, when he leapt with exaggerated urgency to pluck out a cross.

Rufus Brevitt was prominent for Fulham; one teasing cross had Walsall keeper James Walker at full stretch and Paul Peschisolido’s pace always looked capable of shredding the Walsall defence. When Adrian Viveash did a passable impression of a tall tower about to topple in the wind, Peschisolido pounced, but his sprint into the box was smothered by Walker, who also made a fine stop to deny Steve Hayward. He was relegated to being a spectator, however, when Peschisolido stepped on the gas again, driving home an angled shot from the edge of the area.

Walsall came out for the second half with all guns blazing; Ian Roper’s shot struck a post, and Fulham were on the back foot for a while. But if you were from Walsall, you doubtless knew that it had been decreed that Fulham were about to score their second. Sure enough, Kit Symons, completely unopposed, headed home from a corner.

Walsall pulled a goal back when Chris Marsh’s shot was deflected, and then were just a whisker away from equalising after another electric break turned Fulham inside out.

But Keegan’s side would not be denied and a superlative curling shot by Hayward following a short free kick, and an excellent solo effort by Geoff Horsfield after an exquisite long pass by Gus Ulhenbeek, put the icing on the cake.

To rub salt into the wounds, Walsall had Bjarni Larusson sent off towards the end.

Fulham: Taylor, Uhlenbeek, Brevett, Morgan, Coleman, Symons, Collins, Bracewell (Smith 86min), Lehmann, Peschisolido (Horsfield 72min), Hayward.

Walsall: Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Roper, Viveash, Wrack, Brisset, Platt, Larusson, Lambert (Watson 70min).

Scorers: Fulham: Peschisolido 30, Symons 63, Hayward 75 Horsfield 83. Walsall: Marsh 71.

Sent off: Larusson (88min).

Referee: K Hill (Royston).

Attendance: 8,452.

Fulham 4 Walsall 1

roger6 @ 6:42 pm Saturday 24 October 1998

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Roper, Viveash
Wrack, Lambert (sub 69 Watson), Larusson, Platt, Brissett

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Matchfacts

Fulham leapt into third place with an impressive display in poor conditions. Paul Peschisolido got the opening goal with a low drive on 31 minutes during a largely disappointing first half in which Walsall’s Ian Roper hit a post. In the second half goals from Symons, Hayward and debutante Geoff Horsfield added to Fulham’s tally. Chris Marsh’s deflected effort was the only response for the visitor’s who also had Larusson sent off for two bookable offences
GOALS

1-0 Fulham 30 mins Peschisolido
skipped past two Walsall defenders and hit a powerful right-foot drive, from the edge of the penalty area, into the left-hand corner of the net

2-0 Fulham 62 mins Symons
ran in at the far post, unmarked, to score with a powerful header from Hayward’s right wing corner

2-1 Walsall 70 mins Marsh
hit a low, hard drive from the right-hand corner of the six-yard box which cannoned off Rufus Brevett into the net

3-1 Fulham 74 mins Hayward
Paul Bracewell nudged the ball to his right for Hayward to curl his shot past the stranded Walker

4-1 Fulham 83 mins Horsfield
picked the ball up 25 yards out, escaped the attentions of the Walsall defence and scored with a neat chip over Walker

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Express & Star

If promotions are won on the thickness of a club’s cheque book, then get your cash on Fulham. If money really does talk, then Al Fayed should be chatting all the way to the First Division.
Thankfully, outside the Premiership at least, cash doesn’t guarantee success. For the time being at least, League positions don’t necessarily reflect the size of a club’s bank balance.

If they did, then Fulham would have been promoted last season, Wolves would be mixing it with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool, and Barnsley and Charlton would never have been to places like Highbury, Stamford Bridge and Villa Park.

Cash helps. That little bit of extra quality that financial muscle can obtain, will at times make a difference as Walsall found out to their cost on Saturday.

But a good manager, a solid system and good players, whether they arrived on free transfers or not, also puts you in with a chance of being successful. Walsall have these commodities – if they didn’t they wouldn’t be lying fifth in the division after a third of the season.

They may not be able to hang on to Fulham’s coat-tails, or perhaps even Stoke’s. But as for the rest . . .

One thing is for certain. A 4-1 reverse against the Second Division’s biggest spenders is certainly no basis on which to start predicting a free-fall into mid-table obscurity.

There will be times during the course of the campaign when a good many sides feel the full force of Keegan’s expensively assembled side. Manchester City have already suffered a pounding at Craven Cottage, and by all accounts were more comprehensively beaten than Walsall were on Saturday.

When they are on song Fulham will take some beating, as you would expect from a squad that boasts eight past or present internationals. Unfortunately for Saddlers, Saturday was a day when the Londoners hit all the right notes.

Their victory margin may have been a touch flattering, but no-one can argue that they fully deserved the victory that saw them climb above their visitors.

They monopolised the first half to such an extent that Ray Graydon’s side failed to register one single effort on goal, yet it took a moment of class from former Albion and Blues striker Paul Peschisolido to separate the sides.

But then he did cost a million, and the way he created the time and space to dispatch a clinical finish beyond Jimmy Walker bore the hallmarks of a player who should be playing at a higher level.

Peschisolido was a constant thorn to a Walsall rearguard minus the injured Richard Green while the experience of Paul Bracewell and the solid barrier of current Welsh defensive partners Kit Symons and Chris Coleman ensured Walsall were in for an unrewarding afternoon.

To their credit Walsall lifted their game after the break, but after Ian Roper had seen his right foot shot rebound back off a post, they contributed to their downfall with some sloppy marking that allowed Symons to plant a free header home for number two.

But Saddlers still refused to buckle and, after Chris Marsh’s deflected effort had thrown them a lifeline, Clive Platt was inches away from equalising. Had he managed to get his head to Darren Wrack’s cross, who knows what might have happened.

But minutes later Saddlers were left reflecting on what might have been when Walsal- born midfielder Steve Hayward produced a Beckham-esq free kick to make it 3-1.

With Saddlers throwing caution to the wind in their attempts to get back into the game, they were caught on the break when substitute Geoff Horsfield – one of the London outfit’s cheaper acquisitions at a mere £300,000 – marked his first appearance for the club by clinically adding a fourth.

A disappointing day was rounded off when Bjarni Larusson received his marching orders for an act of petulance that earned him his second caution of the afternoon and an early bath.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable afternoon for Graydon, or the travelling fans who braved the appalling weather conditions, but one miserable day shouldn’t cast a cloud over what are encouraging times at Bescot.

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The Sunday Times
YOU had to feel sorry for Walsall’s loyal sprinkling of fans exposed to the elements on the open terracing, 16 umbrellas between them. After a feckless start, their side fought tooth and nail in a storming end-to-end second half, but were overcome by a rampant Fulham. It was a typical Kevin Keegan match.

In the first half, Walsall invited trouble by sitting deep, allowing Fulham’s back five to patiently build moves or saunter forward at their leisure. Fulham were livelier, quicker and sharper in the tackle and had clearly decided the foul conditions were not going to prevent them playing football.

The Walsall army had to live off meagre first-half rations, their flickering moments of hope being swallowed by a poor final ball or an offside flag. Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor did not have to raise as much as an eyebrow until the 36th minute, when he leapt with exaggerated urgency to pluck out a cross.

Rufus Brevitt was prominent for Fulham; one teasing cross had Walsall keeper James Walker at full stretch and Paul Peschisolido’s pace always looked capable of shredding the Walsall defence. When Adrian Viveash did a passable impression of a tall tower about to topple in the wind, Peschisolido pounced, but his sprint into the box was smothered by Walker, who also made a fine stop to deny Steve Hayward. He was relegated to being a spectator, however, when Peschisolido stepped on the gas again, driving home an angled shot from the edge of the area.

Walsall came out for the second half with all guns blazing; Ian Roper’s shot struck a post, and Fulham were on the back foot for a while. But if you were from Walsall, you doubtless knew that it had been decreed that Fulham were about to score their second. Sure enough, Kit Symons, completely unopposed, headed home from a corner.

Walsall pulled a goal back when Chris Marsh’s shot was deflected, and then were just a whisker away from equalising after another electric break turned Fulham inside out.

But Keegan’s side would not be denied and a superlative curling shot by Hayward following a short free kick, and an excellent solo effort by Geoff Horsfield after an exquisite long pass by Gus Ulhenbeek, put the icing on the cake.

To rub salt into the wounds, Walsall had Bjarni Larusson sent off towards the end.

Walsall 1 Colchester 1

roger6 @ 6:43 pm Tuesday 20 October 1998

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Viveash
Wrack, Porter (sub 86 Lambert), Larusson, Platt, Brissett

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Matchfacts

Battling Colchester United picked up a thoroughly deserved point against high flying Walsall. United made Walsall look anything but a third placed side as they dominated the midfield. Walsall only had themselves to blame as they never hit the heights they had produced in beating Blackpool in their previous game. Manager Ray Graydon made a late change to his team by sending on winger Jamie Lambert in the closing stages but it was too little too late as Walsall squandered the chance to record a third successive home win
GOALS
1-0 Walsall 47 mins Platt
Marsh floated over a cross from the right wing and Platt nipped in front of the Colchester defence to steer the ball over the line from six yards

1-1 Colchester 81 mins Lock
Walsall’s defence made a hash of trying to clear the ball and the well placed Lock pounced on the error to volley home with a curling left foot drive from 18 yards

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Express & Star

Throughout the course of the season there will be more games like this, the off days when try as you might, things don’t quite click.
The secret of a successful side is, firstly not to have too many off days, but secondly to still earn some sort of a reward when you are not firing on all cylinders. If you can’t win, then make sure you don’t lose – it’s one of football’s unwritten rules – and that’s exactly what Saddlers did last night.

A point at home against a side languishing in the lower reaches of the division may not be the ideal return, but manager Ray Graydon wasn’t complaining after seeing his side fall below the high standards they have set so far this term.

Good starts and impressive performances naturally increases expectancy levels and, rightly or wrongly, the home fans are now expecting to see teams like Colchester brushed aside such.

But one thing that is becoming more evident week by week is that there will be no soft touches or home bankers in this division. Whatever you get you will have worked hard for.

That was certainly the case last night as Graydon’s team grafted, scrapped and battled their way their way to only their second draw of the season.

Such were the results elsewhere that a four-goal triumph would have seen Saddlers sitting pretty at the top of Division Two.

But that never looked likely against an uncompromising, hard-working Colchester outfit and this is midweek – for some reason Walsall have taken a dislike to midweek games suffering three of their four League defeats under the floodlights.

It wasn’t by any means a fluent performance with the home side struggling to find any rhythm or drive, especially during a forgettable opening 45 minutes.

But while the passing and movement may not have been at its best, there was yet again plenty of effort and a comforting solidity and shape to the side epitomised by the performaces of central defenders Richard Green and Adie Viveash.

They nullified the considerable aerial threat of former Blues striker Mark Sale and the experienced Neil Gregory and with Neil Pointon and Chris Marsh tidy and efficient in the full back berths Graydon has a sound defensive foundation at his disposal.

It was that back four who were probably the more busier during the opening 45 minutes as Colchester, backed by a swirling wind, made most of the early running.

But such is the understanding among Viveash and Co that a clean cut chance was never yielded with Scott Stamps thunderous 30-yard effort that crashed into the upright the only real moment of concern for Jimmy Walker.

Walsall had only managed the odd moment of menace with Clive Platt and Darren Wrack bring routine saves from visiting keeper Carl Emberson, but a half-time pep talk had a sudden impact with Platt providing the clinical finish Chris Marsh’s searching cross deserved two minutes after the restart.

That should have provided Walsall with the perfect platform to go on and win the game, but despite the pacy threat of the hard- working Jason Brissett, chances were few and far between.

Brissett was guilty of over-indulgence when he opted to shoot from a tight angle with Platt and Wrack both screaming for the ball to be squared while Emberson’s impressive handling accounted for what little else Saddlers threw goalwards.

However, with just nine minutes remaining Walsall were undone as they for once failed to clear their lines, allowing substitute Tony Lock to lash the ball home after a game of penalty area pinball.

As Graydon commented after the match: “You can’t play well every week and the level of the performance so far this season has been excellent.”

Few could begrudge Saddlers a rare blip, yet they still had something to show for their efforts. The importance of this point is likely to grow as the season progresses.

Wrexham 2 Walsall 1

roger6 @ 6:40 pm Saturday 10 October 1998

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Viveash
Wrack, Larusson, Platt (sub 77 Roper); Watson, Brissett

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Matchfacts

Walsall missed the chance to go top although manager Ray Graydon thought his team the better side. He said it was nice to play well even when they lost and he was confident of soon getting back on a winning track. Wrexham were not up to their usual standard and their winning goal had an element of good fortune when Connolly’s shot deflected off Russell, in an off-side position, to send the ‘keeper the wrong way
GOALS
0-1 Walsall 13 mins Watson
Keates’s right-wing corner was flicked on at the near post by Platt allowing Watson to come in at the back post and place his angled shot low, into the middle of the net

1-1 Wrexham 28 mins Connolly
David Brammer’s right-wing cross picked out Karl Connolly inside the box and although the striker’s first shot was blocked, he was able to head in the rebound

2-1 Wrexham 34 mins Russell
Connolly’s 30-yard shot from was deflected by Russell, beating the ‘keeper, whilst Walsall protested that the Wrexham man was off-side

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Express & Star

We have all been there, at sometime or other most of us have suffered a miserable time in Wales. You pop across the border in the hope of spending a few enjoyable hours only to return home complaining about the weather and moaning about what a gloomy time you have had.
Well, that just about sums up Walsall’s trip to Wrexham on Saturday. What, at one point looked like being a pleasant afternoon stroll, turned out to be a wet, unrewarding and downright depressing day as Saddlers saw their hopes of climbing top of the Second Division washed away.

It’s a touch ironic that the Racecourse Ground was the venue where Walsall missed out on the chance of putting themselves in pole position, because there should be a stewards inquiry as to just how Ray Graydon’s side returned home pointless. And as for that linesman – well he must have been wearing blinkers!

It was just one of those days. Walsall didn’t freeze at the prospect of scaling their highest league placing since September 1987 and they didn’t play badly, indeed it was with some justification that Graydon claimed his side were the better on the day.

But they lacked the killer touch in front of goal that a fit Andy Rammell has provided this season and also found that lady luck had deserted them on Saturday.

It had all looked to be going according to plan as the visitors started the game in the composed and assured manner so regularly seen on their travels this season.

With leading scorer Rammell and the on-loan Paul Simpson failing to win their battle for fitness, Andy Watson and Clive Platt were given their chance to impress and it took them just 13 minutes to grab the manager’s attention.

The pair combined to stunning effect as Platt flicked on Dean Keates’ inswinging corner and Watson provided the clinical far post finish to give Saddlers a deserved lead and send a larger than average away following into raptures.

Platt in particular seemed intent on making the most of his belated start to the season, offering glimpses of the talent that he undoubtedly possesses, but has yet to display on a regular basis.

He was unfortunate not to double Walsall’s advantage when, after a neat turn of pace had created a half chance, he saw his goalbound shot deflected just wide for a corner.

There had been one or two tentative warnings for the visiting defence but Walsall were looking good value for their lead. But then from a position of control Saddlers saw the game turned on its head in a nightmare five-minute spell.

They only had themselves to blame as they were guilty of over passing, enabling David Brammer the chance to deliver a cross that Karl Connolly nodded home at the second attempt after Jimmy Walker had superbly blocked his first effort.

Then, a minute after home keeper Mark Cartwright had made the save of the day to deny Chris Marsh, Wrexham were in front in controversial circumstances.

Adrian Viveash and Neil Pointon led the complaints, but to no avail, after a suspiciously offside-looking Russell had deflected Connolly’s shot past a wrong-footed Walker. With Keates and Bjarni Larusson starting to dictate matters in the middle of the park, and Jason Brissett becoming an increasing threat, Saddlers took a grip on proceedings.

Watson and Platt both had efforts blocked in frantic goalmouth scrambles, while Richard Green outjumped Cartwright only to see his header shave the post. Brissett then saw his penalty appeals waved aside after his cross was blocked by a combination of legs and an arm before Wrack headed wide from close range with the goal at his mercy.

The chance to head the division may have slipped by, but Graydon knows Walsall are moving in the right direction. Home games against Blackpool and Colchester offer the chance to bounce back from this disappointment. Six points and top spot could be beckoning again.

Walsall 1 Preston 0

roger6 @ 6:41 pm Saturday 03 October 1998

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh (sub 63 Gadsby), Pointon, Keates, Green, Viveash
Wrack, Larusson, Simpson; Rammell (sub 67 Watson), Brissett

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Matchfacts

Walsall powered their way up the table at the expense of fellow high-flyers Preston in a dramatic clash at Bescot. Both sides had a player sent-off in a stormy encounter, but it was all settled by Andy Rammell’s first half ‘strike’. In the heated match that exploded with two dismissals in the final four minutes, Walsall’s defensive strength proved to be crucial and, eventually, decisive
GOALS
1-0 Walsall 16 mins Rammell
a freak goal when Preston ‘keeper Teuvo Moilanen punched Simpson’s corner onto Andy Rammell’s back only for it to rebound into the net

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Express & Star

Whisper it quietly, but there could be something to shout about down Walsall way this season. Play-off contenders? Promotion hopefuls? The Saddlers? Well we never expected that.
Unexpected it may have been, especially during a far from smooth pre-season, but is it not time to start considering the improbable because after all if you hadn’t noticed Walsall are second – their highest League placing in a decade.

Football speak may dictate that it is still very much ‘early doors’ and that ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ but there is a belief about Bescot these days.

The players have belief in their manager, and likewise Ray Graydon with his players. Team spirit has probably never been better, and everyone seems to be kicking in the same direction.

There may be one or two doubters still waiting to pour scorn on Walsall’s hopes and still looking for the first signs of the bubble bursting.

But why should it? The first quarter of the season is almost completed and Graydon’s side have only been outplayed just once – and that was at some little place called Maine Road.

There have been other hiccups, but in each of those games – York and Reading – Walsall could justifiably claim to have at least deserved a share of the spoils. The simple fact is that Walsall are playing very well at the moment.

If you do that on a consistent basis you win football matches. If you win games you get points. If you get points you climb the table. Simple isn’t it?

Another point that should not be overlooked is that Graydon has some quality in his side.

Have Jimmy Walker, Neil Pointon or Andy Rammell got many, if any, peers at this level, and isn’t Darren Wrack – penalties aside – destined for bigger and better things?

Preston may have headed home up the M6 on Saturday feeling a little hard done-by. True the game’s deciding goal wasn’t exactly a contender for Goal of the Season, but for all the visitors’ huff and puff how many clear-cut chances did they create? Hardly any.

That fact will have pleased Graydon immensely after the recent Bescot defensive uncertanties which had seen seven goals fly past Walker in the last three games.

But on Saturday the meanness seen so regularly on their travels was very much in evidence as Wednesday night’s disappointing 2-0 defeat against Reading was well and truly banished.

Richard Green and Adrian Viveash formed a formidable barrier at the heart of Saddlers’ defence while in front of them Dean Keates and the on-loan Bjarni Larusson look the ideal midfield pairing.

Up front you can take the performances of Andy Rammell for granted. The only shock will be if he actually has a bad game.

He bagged the all-important goal after 16 minutes and in true striker’s fashion wasn’t the slightest bit concerned that he knew precious little about as he got in the way of Preston keeper Teuvo Moilanen’s fisted clearance from Darren Wrack’s corner with the ball ending up in the back of the net via Rammell’s back.

That set up what turned out to be another cracking game for the home faithful to enjoy with the pace rarely dropping below the hectic level. And even referee Rob Styles added to the entertainment with an eccentric performance that saw him brandish five yellow cards, two red ones and award Saddlers a penalty.

The spot-kick arrived five minutes from time after Walsall had weathered a heavy spell of pressure from the visitors. Darren Wrack tumbled under a challenge from Colin Murdock and then, after Michael Jackson had been dismissed for taking his protests too far, proceded to fluff his second successive penalty when his effort rebounded to safety off the post.

There was still time for further drama with Jason Brissett picking up his second yellow card of the day after being deemed to have dived by referee Styles.

The only down side to another impressive afternoon’s work was the injuries that forced Rammell and Chris Marsh out of the action part way through the second half.

However, those aside Bescot has every reason to be buzzing. Second place, playing well, confidence high. It can’t get any better than this can it?

Again, whisper it quietly, but Saddlers could be top next Saturday.

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