Archive for November, 1998

Walsall 1 Bournemouth 0

roger6 @ 6:36 pm Saturday 28 November 1998

THE TEAM
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Roper,
Wrack, Otta, Platt, Larusson, Watson (sub 75 Ricketts).

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Matchfacts Although Walsall failed to produce their best form they still managed to increase their recent unbeaten record to six games. The Saddlers remained in third spot and were indebted to a well-taken second half winner from Darren Wrack. Bournemouth had their chances to equalise particularly in the closing stages when Christer Warren failed with two close range efforts
GOALS

1-0 Walsall 67 mins Wrack
a clever through-pass from Platt wrong-footed Bournemouth’s defence and Wrack veered to his right before crashing a 15 yard right-footed shot into the net

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Express and Star
It may still seem a homely, amiable little venue, but Bescot is fast becoming the least most welcoming place in the Second Division – and long may it continue.

Slowly and surely Walsall are turning their neat compact home into a nightmare stop-off point for visiting teams.

There may be a warm smile and a friendly greeting for the opposition when they step off the team bus and the hospitality is normally continued following the final whistle, but in between the Saddlers are proving to be less than charming hosts.

Even the after match sortie into manager Ray Graydon’s office for a quiet drink or two now only provides his opposite number with the chance to drown his sorrows before embarking an a miserable return journey.

Bournmouth manager Mel Machin certainly bore a disgruntled look as he stomped off for a bit of tea and sympathy from the ever pleasant Graydon, after seeing has side become the latest victims of Walsall’s up-turn in home fortunes.

After some indifferent early season performances on their own patch – Reading, York and Colchester spring readily to mind – Saddlers have responded to their manager’s call to turn Bescot into something of a mini-fortress.

Seven games have now surpassed since Graydon’s men suffered a blank day at Bescot with that sequence seeing them accumulate 16 points out of a possible 18 and book a place in round two of the FA Cup at Preston next week.

Successful campaigns are built on the back of such solid foundations and while it may still be a little premature, after all santa’s not even come down the chimney yet, to start deluding themselves with what might or could happen, the Saddlers fans are certainly starting to believe they are in for more than just a happy Christmas.

Chants of “We are going up” echoed round the stadium following their team’s latest blend of defiance, good football and sheer will to win.

Bournmouth are a decent side, but then so were Preston, Blackpool and Millwall and they too have headed home recently licking their wounds.

Even without the injured former Saddlers favourite Roger Boli, the south coast club still posed a real threat and asked plenty of questions of the Walsall defence.

But those questions were meet with emphatic answers from the likes of keeper Jimmy Walker and the tight-fisted quartet of Chris Marsh, Neil Pointon, Richard Green and Ian Roper in front of him.

They had to be at their best during what turned out to be an uncomfortable opening 45 minutes for Graydon’s men.

Walsall had fairly raced out of the starting blocks with a purposeful, bright, adventurous assault on the visitors that had the home fans chanting their approval and anticipating another afternoon of rich entertainment.

But after their early efforts failed to gain a true reward they somehow lost their way against a more than competent Cherries outfit who probably just shaded the first half exchanges and with some steadier finishing may well have nosed in front.

It was a different story after the interval as Walsall responded to Graydon’s pep-talk and came out determined to take a firm grip on proceedings, again displaying the excellent spirit and bond that has been nurtured within the dressing room.

That togetherness and one for all, all for one attitude was summed up by the unselfish hard working displays from Andy Watson and Clive Platt as they filled the voids left by the suspensions of Andy Rammell and Jason Brissett.

They may not have caught the eye, and may not have been a contenders for the man of the match awards, but both typified what Saddlers are all about this season with honest hard working performances.

Watson undertook, what for him is an unnatural wide left role, while Platt filled Rammell’s boots so well that his absence was hardly noticed.

Fittingly, Platt and the impressive Marsh combined to create the all important goal mid-way through the second half, with Darren Wrack rounding off their neat build up play with a clinical finish for his seventh goal of the season.

Then it was back to the midfield and the defence to ensure another shut-out, Saddlers 10th of the campaign, to complete a solid days work.

They duly responded although there were one or two heart-stopping moments to endure, most notably when Christer Warren blasted a rare clear opening wide and the commanding Ian Cox saw Walker pull off the save of the day to tip over his goal bound shot in time added on.

And just for good measure the afternoon was rounded off perfectly with the news that Saddlers had leap-frogged into second place. It really is a case of home sweet home for the Walsall faithful and I bet the Saturday night Banks’s has never tasted so sweet.

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Macclesfield 1 Walsall 1

roger6 @ 6:37 pm Saturday 21 November 1998

THE TEAM
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Roper,
Wrack, Otta, Rammell, Larusson, Brissett (sub 89 Watson).

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Matchfacts Former Manchester United striker Graham Tomlinson earned Macclesfield a vital point in their relegation battle with a 76th minute equaliser. Walsall’s Argentinian striker Walter Otter had sent the away side in one up at half-time. Only James Walker’s brilliance in the Walsall goal denied Macclesfield the win, as he made a succession of point blank saves in the second half
GOALS

0-1 Walsall 45 mins Otter
after a 60-yard run Darren Wrack picked out Argentinian Walter Otter who slid the ball under Ryan Price from close range

1-1 Macclesfield 76 mins Tomlinson
Walsall ‘keeper James Walker could only parry Neil Howarth’s shot and Graeme Tomlinson popped up from close range to score

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Express and Star
A team’s progress can be charted in various ways, league position, points and goals to name a few. But a more telling pointer towards Saddlers’ undoubted improvement this season was provided by the players on Saturday.

They hadn’t lost, but you would never have guessed from the solemn expressions that greeted this ultimately hard-earned point.

Any sort of reward on the opposition’s patch is normally grasped with some relish, but Saddlers are becoming more and more greedy as the weeks pass, and that’s a sure fire sign that life at Bescot is on the up.

It wasn’t that the visitors expected their hosts, currently languishing in the lower reaches of the table, to be push-overs. Far from it.

It’s just that such is the belief and confidence within the Saddlers ranks, they believe they are more than a match for most sides in this division.

As each player trooped out of the dressing room towards the team bus the mood could be summed up in one word – disappointed.

“Disappointed we didn’t get all the points,” said Darren Wrack. “Disappointed not to have won that one,” added Chris Marsh. “Disappointed to have conceded that goal,” bemoaned keeper Jimmy Walker.

It would appear the only person far from unhappy with the situation was manager Ray Graydon.

The Saddlers boss has set some very high standards since arriving in the summer and deemed himself delighted with the latest offering from his blossoming outfit.

The fact that his players now expect to win will surely provide Saddlers fans with some comfort for the months ahead.

After all, wouldn’t it have been easy to sit back and reflect on some of the breathtaking football they conjured up during an opening 45 minute show that was as good, if not better, than anything that has preceded it this season?

Shouldn’t the players have pointed to a League table that shows them still sitting pretty in third place, or couldn’t they have just mentioned the fact that this was the first time in five games that they have failed to win?

No, this hungry Bescot pack want more. They are enjoying life at the sharp-end, mixing it with the likes of Stoke, Manchester City and Fulham, and if a cold unwelcoming afternoon in Cheshire is any sort of gauge, they intend to continue devouring points to feed their appetite for success.

What might have, on paper at least, looked a good bet for an away-day success proved far from true as the former Conference boys recovered from a first half runaround to launch a powerful response that had Walsall back-tracking after the interval.

In truth, Saddlers should have had more than one goal to show for their supremacy before the break. This was the best example yet of the Graydon blueprint on how football should be played – on the deck with crisp passing being complimented by good movement and above all width.

But then Graydon knows a thing or two about wing play, and in Wrack and Jason Brissett he has two potential match winners within his ranks.

Brissett has only offered glimpses of his undoubted talent, but was a constant menace during the visitors’ impressive start to the game while Wrack certainly appears to be benefiting from the knowledge passed on by his manager.

It was Brissett who was behind most of Saddlers’ early threats with the home defence struggling to cope with his pace and directness and Sammy McIlroy would have been relieved to see keeper Ryan Price in such good form.

The Wolverhampton-born former Stafford Rangers stopper pulled off two stunning saves, first to deny Andy Rammell from close range and then pushing away a curling effort from Bjarni Larusson that looked destined for the top corner.

Larusson whistled another effort wide while Dean Keates was just inches away from opening his account for the season as Graydon’s side, backed by a biting wind, sought to make their supremacy tell.

They had to wait until first time injury time before finally earning a just reward for their endeavour with a goal of stunning simplicity.

Wrack was the creator picking up a mis-placed Macclesfield corner just outside his own area before galloping 50 yards and then releasing a perfectly weighted pass that Argentinian striker Walter Otta clinically swept passed the advancing Price.

However, any hopes of a comfortable stroll to a sixth travelling success of the season were blown away by Macclesfield’s high tempo start to the second period.

Twice in the opening two minutes of the half Steve Wood squandered chances to level matters and then saw Walker deny him with a brilliant fingertip save.

The Walsall keeper then eclipsed that stop with a contender for save of the season when he somehow pushed aside a close range effort from John Askey as the game simply fizzed along at a relentless pace.

But just when you thought that the visiting defence, in which Ian Roper and Richard Green were outstanding, had weathered the storm their resistance was finally broken when substitute Graeme Tomlinson bundled home from close range.

At that point it seemed the home side’s momentum might carry them to victory, but it was Walsall who gave further evidence of their unquestionable character by finishing the game the stronger.

Rammell drilled an effort into the side netting while Price displayed some sound handling to deny Wrack and substitute Andy Watson.

In the end it finished with honours even and despite the above mentioned disappointment, come the day of reckoning next May, this could prove to be a very valuable reward for Graydon’s men.

Walsall 1 Gresley Rovers 0

roger6 @ 6:38 pm Saturday 14 November 1998

THE TEAM
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Roper,
Wrack, Otta, Rammell, Larusson, Brissett.

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Matchfacts Division Two high-fliers Walsall were given a stern test by non-leaguers Gresley before securing their place in the next round. The Saddlers are flying high in the table, but Rovers were totally disrespectful of their lofty position. Gresley, who almost went out of business 12 months ago, earned praise for their display and a useful cheque from their share of the gate receipts
GOALS
1-0 Walsall 79 mins Roper
a positive close-range header into the centre of the Gresley net, following a corner by Darren Wrack

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Express and Star
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t exciting, but as the old FA Cup adage goes – the only thing which ultimately matters is making it to the next round.

This was not vintage Walsall by any means, and Ray Graydon’s side never looked likely to hit the heights of some of the League displays which had gone before.

And yet for long periods they appeared to be on cruise control and, save for a couple of notable exceptions, a brave Gresley side never seriously threatened a giant-killing.

A win by five or six goals would have been welcome for the players and a darn-sight more interesting for the spectators, but the end product would have still been the same.

In the final reckoning Walsall made safe passage into round 2 without sustaining serious injury, and that can only be good news.

The Cup can now return to the back-burner for three weeks, leaving Graydon and his players to focus on the Second Division campaign.

And, after a superb start which has seen them emerge as serious promotion contenders, the league must be Saddlers’ top priority.

The spirited Dr Martens Premier Division outfit, managed by former England striker Garry Birtles, deserve credit for their display of stout defending which kept the scoresheet blank for 79 minutes.

But it was Saddlers who had the lion’s share of possession, Saddlers who made most of the running, and Saddlers who looked more likely winners throughout.

The biggest blight on the day was not the lack of further goals, but the yellow card picked up by scorer Ian Roper for a clumsy shove on Ian Pitt.

He is now just one booking away from a suspension which, in the continued absence of Adrian Viveash, could leave Graydon dangerously short of defensive options.

The solid performance of Roper and his defensive colleagues was the biggest plus for Graydon from Saturday’s game.

Full-backs Chris Marsh and Neil Pointon were both serious man-of-the-match contenders and it was Pointon who again defied his 34 years to get the sponsors’ vote.

In the centre Richard Green continues to look like the best £30,000 Graydon will ever spend – his strong, calming display was typical of his early months at the club.

It was in midfield and attack that they failed to fire on all cylinders, and it was perhaps fitting that a defender, Roper, should grab the winner in the 79th minute, rising highest six yards out to head Darren Wrack’s corner into the roof of the net.

Wrack looked to most dangerous player in Saddlers attacking armoury on a day when most of his colleagues misfired.

Dean Keates and Bjarni Larusson were neat and tidy in the centre of midfield and they coped well defensively with the trio of players in Gresley’s 5-3-2 formation.

But neither showed the urgency required to kill off the visitors, and Jason Brissett, who reverted to his favoured left wing position, had one of his most ineffective games so far for the club.

Up front Walter Otta’s first Walsall start began brightly but the newest Bescot hero, from Argentina via Italy and Chile, faded as the afternoon progressed.

Top-scorer Andy Rammell’s game followed a similar pattern as Gresley’s towering centre-back trio of Paul Fitzpatrick, Matt Carvell and David Faulkner adapted quickly to cope with his aerial threat.

Saddlers’ only serious heart-in-mouth moments came courtesy of Gresley’s top-scorer Pitt, their liveliest forward.

In the 21st minute he forced an acrobatic diving save from James Walker with a wicked 25yd free-kick which was heading inside the left-hand upright.

And shortly before Roper’s goal Pitt had a loud penalty appeal rejected when he went down under a heavy challenge from Marsh.

But Graydon’s men controlled possession and had chances of their own – Keates had a shot cleared off the goal line and put two more efforts narrowly wide, while Otta came within a bar’s diameter of his second goal in five days.

Saddlers have performed much better this season, and they will again, but the important thing was that they got the job done.

The Cup, while providing added interest, can be an unwelcome distraction – just look at last season.

If they can come through a tough game at Preston in three weeks time, a money-spinning third round exit at the hands of a Premiership “big-boy” could be a blessing in disguise.

Their best chance of a Wembley appearance this season is through the play-offs, and promotion would be much more lucrative than any Cup heroics.

Walsall 2 Lincoln 1

roger6 @ 6:38 pm Tuesday 10 November 1998

THE TEAM
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Viveash (sub 62 Roper);
Wrack, Brissett, Rammell, Larusson, Lambert (sub Otta 45).

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Matchfacts Walsall substitute Walter Otter chose the perfect moment to score his first goal for the club and sealed a dramatic injury-time success in a stormy encounter with Lincoln City at Bescot. Sheffield referee Brian Coddington booked five Walsall players, four from Lincoln, sent off a player from each side and also dismissed Lincoln manager Shane Westley from the bench. Coddington struggled to keep control of the match as bottom of the table Lincoln threatened to pull off a major shock when Tony Battersby gave them a first half lead. But the introduction of Otter at half time was a key decision by Walsall boss Ray Graydon and it paid dividends for The Saddlers who move into third place
GOALS
0-1 Lincoln 8 mins Battersby
Walker spilled a free kick from Bimson and Battersby took advantage, making no mistake with a low, close-range drive

1-1 Walsall 70 mins Wrack
Otter delivered an inch-perfect cross from the right wing and picked out Wrack who headed home at the far post

2-1 Walsall 90 mins Otter
with Richardson having pushed away a penalty from Rammell, Walsall quickly moved back onto the offensive with Otter scoring from close range when Lincoln failed to clear a corner

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Express and Star
Where do you start describing a match that contained enough talking points and controversy for a complete season never mind 90 minutes?

Do you start with Argentinian super-sub Walter Otta who grabbed a last-gasp winner for the Saddlers? Perhaps the unbelievable performance from Sheffield-based official Brian Coddington – nine bookings and three dismissals including Lincoln boss Shane Westley.

Or how about the unsavoury antics from the visitors that had the Bescot faithful seething?

It was quite a night and while in pure footballing terms the quality was far from impressive, you can’t knock the entertainment value even if it was of the X-rated variety.

Whatever Walsall dish up over the remainder of the season I doubt any match will be remembered more vividly than this – sadly for all the wrong reasons.

Yet again the central figure in a game of football was the man in black. The ropey ref’ syndrome is spreading and fast becoming a major problem for players, managers and supporters alike.

Fans part with their hard-earned cash in the hope of seeing some entertaining football, not to watch some whistle-happy official prancing round admonishing cards as if they were going out of fashion and so seemingly out of touch with our national game.

It matters not one bit whether refs are professional or not if they lack the nous, common sense or the ability to control games.

Had Mr Coddington acquired the extra lung capacity that would come with full-time status and training, he might have managed to get round to the dozen or so players he failed to nail last night.

In truth he wasn’t helped by the spoiling, niggling, over-physical approach from Lincoln. They were desperate, but unfortunately for 45 minutes at least, Walsall were reduced to the same depressing standard.

Thankfully it all turned out to be all right on the night’ at least in terms of justice being done and Westley’s side ended up with their just reward – absolutely nothing.

For whatever reason Walsall have had their problems with midweek clashes this season – no win in six prior to last night’s battle of Bescot – and that dismal statistic looked set to be extended after an instantly forgettable first half in which Saddlers not only failed to get to grips with Lincoln’s route one style, but started to adopt the same eyesore of a tactic.

The evening started dreadfully for Ray Graydon’s men with just eight minutes on the clock when keeper Jimmy Walker failed to gather Stuart Bimson’s free kick and Tony Battersby managed to hook home from the ensuing scramble.

Chances and quality were at a premium as Saddlers huffed and puffed and allowed themselves to overlook the footballing beliefs Graydon has installed in them.

The skill factor was still sadly missing after the break, but there was certainly plenty of talking points.

The booking count and tempers continued to rise at an alarming rate and it was just a matter of time before Mr Coddington got bored with waving a yellow card – well he did use it nine times – and opted for a change of colour.

Jason Brissett was the unfortunate victim following a touchline joust with Jason Perry that had seen the Walsall flier pulled, tugged and kicked to the ground before apparently lashing out.

If anything that decision only further galvanised Graydon’s men and they should take credit for a stirring last 20 minutes that saw them emerge with the points.

Darren Wrack levelled matters on 70 minutes when he dived to head home following some excellent approach play from Otta. But there was still plenty more incident to come.

Neil Pointon was pole-axed in an off-the-ball incident that incensed the home side and then Lincoln sub Gavin Gordon became the second recipient of an early bath following a crude challenge on Dean Keates.

Westley was then ordered from the dug-out following an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a linesman after disputing where a Saddlers free kick was taken from. If ever there was an example of a manager stamping his character on a team then look no further than Sincil Bank.

Amazingly Mr Coddington hadn’t had enough excitement for one night and duly awarded Walsall an injury time penalty after Richard Green had been shoved over in another penalty area ruck.

But in keeping with the drama Andy Rammell’s spot kick was pushed aside by keeper Barry Richardson and two points looked to have been tossed away.

However there was still time for one more late dramatic twist as the resulting corner was scrambled home by Otta to spark some wild celebrations from home players and supporters alike.

And as the dust settled on this remarkable affair it almost went un-noticed that Saddlers had ended their midweek misery and just for good measure climbed up a place to third.

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Red Imps (Lincoln Unofficial site)
In a match which saw referee Mr Coddington’s pencil doing overtime, City (without the injured Terry Fleming and Steve Holmes) again lost to an injury-time goal. For the third consecutive game the Imps have let in a goal at the death and twice it has cost them dearly. First it was Gillingham at home – level before conceding a goal three minutes into injury-time – now it was tonight at Walsall where City were in front for over an hour following Tony Battersby’s eight minute effort only to throw it away again.

Argentinian Walter Otta scoring for the Saddlers in time added on after Barry Richardson had saved an Andy Rammell penalty moments earlier. To make matters worse for the Imps, substitute Gavin Gordon – who was on the pitch for only 10 minutes – was sent-off after 85 minutes for a two footed tackle on Walsall’s Dean Keates and City manager Shane Westley was dismissed from the dug-out in the final minute of normal time by the Sheffield official. Walsall’s Jason Brissett also saw red 13 minutes into the second half for retaliation on Jason Perry.

Apology – Ray Graydon

roger6 @ 6:42 pm Monday 09 November 1998

In common with a lot of fans (see message board passim), I, the unofficial Walsall FC site maintainer, was considerably disappointed when the board appointed Ray Graydon in the summer. Who was this man, we asked, former coach at Port Vale, never been a manager before, etc? Surely he was just a Yes man who would flog our best players, bring in no-hopers, and lead us to relegation. Or so we thought.

I now wish to apologise to Sir Ray Graydon (I’ve heard a rumour from the palace that a knighthood is on the way at Christmas). Ray has transformed the team – brought in discipline, teamwork, players who give 100%, and implemented training ground coaching methods to great effect on the pitch.

As a result the original “Ray Who” photo at the top of the site has now been consigned to the electronic dustbin – to be replaced by a photo of Sir Ray taken at a more relaxed moment.

Steve Roy
Site maintainer

Lions slaughtered

roger6 @ 6:44 pm Saturday 07 November 1998

We like playing Millwall. The Saddlers recorded an emphatic 3-0 win against the Londoners on Saturday to continue their highly impressive start to the season – and open up a significant gap between themselves and others chasing for a play-off place.

Richard Green’s first goal for the club since his early season move from Gillingham opened the scoring in the 19th minute, a header from a Dean Keates corner.

Darren Wrack got his 5th of the season when his corner on 39 minutes evaded everyone and went straight in, and Andy Rammell made the victory comfortable with his by-now customary goal after good work from Pointon and Otta – the legend that is Rambo now has 10 for the season.

The match saw Walter Otta make an impressive debut, coming on a sub for Jamie Lambert; and also saw a brilliant save from Jimmy Walker to keep out a rare Millwall effort from Paul Shaw when we were 2-0 up.

Walsall 3 Millwall 0

roger6 @ 6:39 pm Saturday 07 November 1998

THE TEAM
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Green, Roper
Wrack (sub Gadsby 85), Brissett (sub Watson 89), Rammell, Porter, Lambert (sub Otta 74).

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Matchfacts

The Saddlers, lacking the services of the suspended Viveash and Larusson, easily swept aside the challenge of Millwall at The Bescot to maintain their promotion push. Ray Graydon’s side dominated proceedings, racing to their fifth home win of the season, and outclassing The Lions, who are struggling to keep in touch with the division’s front-runners
GOALS

1-0 Walsall 19 mins Green
powerfully headed home from close range following a corner by Keates

2-0 Walsall 38 mins Wrack
Lions ‘keeper Tony Roberts was deceived by the in-swinging corner which flew straight into the net

3-0 Walsall 79 mins Rammell
Pointon and Otter combined to set up the big striker, who made no mistake with a low drive for his tenth goal of the season

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Express and Star
Some people are never satisfied, always wanting that little bit extra. Step forward Ray Graydon.

Three goals, three points, your most comprehensive victory of the campaign to date and the feel good factor reverberating around the Bescot terraces.

That should be enough to please most managers, but not the one responsible for what is fast becoming one of the success stories of the season.

Yes, he was delighted to follow up last week’s success at Bristol, and yes, he was more than pleased with another maximum haul from what looked a tricky encounter. But, no, he wasn’t completely happy with his side’s performance.

Harsh, tough, demanding? Maybe. But Walsall Football Club will benefit from such levels of expectancy.

There is simply no way Graydon is going to rest on his laurels and start basking in the glory of a job, so far well done.

On and off the pitch he has set high standards. Should they be matched by his continually improving side then this could be one hell of a season.

His charming, courteous after match demeanour hides a ruthless determination and hunger to succeed and get the best possible out of his players.

The determined way a tenacious Millwall outfit were dispatched further highlights the rapid progress made down Bescot way in such a short space of time, and just how well his charges are responding.

We know that, given the time and space, Walsall can play some attractive football, but on Saturday they had to graft and scrap for everything that came their way.

As Graydon quite rightly pointed out, they didn’t get the ball down and play anywhere near as much of their passing game as he would have liked, or nowadays expects.

That was mainly due to the efforts of the visiting Lions who epitomised their manager Keith Stevens former playing qualities – hard working, uncompromising and not averse to making their physical presence felt.

The lack of time and space could have frustrated Graydon’s men, but instead they just rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in.

Even the absence of the suspended Adrian Viveash and Bjarni Larusson went unnoticed with Ian Roper and Gary Porter producing the type of performances that leaves Graydon with an enviable selection headache for Tuesday’s visit of Lincoln.

There were the occasional glimpses of the free-flowing attacking play that embarrassed Bristol Rovers last weekend, most notably when Darren Wrack and Neil Pointon managed to get in behind the visiting rearguard, but by and large this was a day for graft rather than craft and Graydon’s men were up for it.

The exceptional Richard Green led by example with a faultless performance at the heart of the defence, capped by his first goal for the club when he headed home a Dean Keates corner to set Saddlers on their way.

The blustery conditions and the uncertainty of Millwall keeper Tony Roberts may have contributed to Walsall’s second, with Wrack’s in-swinging corner clearing a crowded six-yard box and finding it’s way into the top corner.

From that point on Walsall looked in no mood to let their grasp of the game slip, despite an improved second half showing from the Londoners.

Jimmy Walker made one impressive close range block to deny the hard-working Andy Shaw, but that apart there was little more than routine chores for the Saddlers stopper.

It was the home side who carved out the better chances, with leading scorer Andy Rammell guilty of squandering two clear openings to reach the double figure mark for the season.

But Rammell was not to be denied and duly bagged his now accustomed goal – his 10th in 15 games – thanks to some impressive work from substitute Walter Otta.

The Argentinian striker introduced himself to the Bescot faithful with a lively 16-minute appearance that saw him flash one sweetly- struck effort just over the bar before his surging run paved the way for Rammell to fire home from close range 11 minutes from time.

That rounded off another impressive afternoon’s work although one man was still not entirely happy.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but the majority of the 4,237 would settle for this week in week out.

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Millwall Unofficial site
The game started off as a pretty niggly affair. Early on Tony Roberts was clattered to the ground, but the referee elected to play on. On the floor Roberts did well to fumble the ball away, and he caught the follow-up cross. Almost immediately afterwards Roberts found himself copping the worst of it yet again, but this time the referee gave it.

It was not looking very promising for Millwall from the word go, it has to be said. The home defence had Shaw well sussed pretty early on and they were aided and abetted by our hopeless up-and-under tactics. With the average height of our forward line coming in at about 4″0′ and their defence towering above the floodlights, our long balls quickly acquired a degree of inevitability — wallop, cleared. Every time.

And then Walsall got their first. It was the simplest of corners: it was floated in, everyone missed it and it was casually headed home. Roberts was nowhere near it and, for that matter, neither was anyone else.

And still the long balls came, and still the home defence were eating them for breakfast. About our only chance of the half was when Kim Grant did well to make space for himself on the right and put in a good cross for the unmarked Harris. His header looked as if it was going to be well wide, but it was deceptive, and ended up going just the wrong side of the post with the keeper scrambling to make it.

Bob-bob-bob’s Back!

Stuart went down and failed to get back up again at about the mid-way point, which made way for the return of Bow-Wow Bowry. He took the right wing position many feel suits him better than central midfield, Grant switched sides and Ryan reverted to his rightful left back role. All these positional changes made virtually no difference whatsoever, as almost immediately afterwards Walsall were 2-0 up. If the first had been a simple goal from a corner, then this was even simpler — it curled straight into the net without so much as going near another player. Especially not Tony Roberts, at any rate, who just watched it bend into the net. The cries of “dodgy keeper” from the home end were starting to be justified.

It might have been different had Paul Shaw got a penalty when, going clear on goal, the defender put his hands on his shoulders and appeared to be trying to leapfrog over him. The somewhat rotund referee had not been able to keep up with play throughout, and this was no exception — the offence went unpunished. In fairness we have absolutely no-one who looks vaguely like scoring from the spot, so one wonders if it really mattered that much in the end.

The referee was at fault again when Harris was elbowed by the byline on the right when surging forward. This was missed, but Harris seemed unperturbed and continued on, so the defender decided to take his legs. The result was a goal-kick. Stands to reason, really.

Millwall had a chance to reduce the defecit on half time when, with Walsall struggling to get the ball out of their own box and the keeper all over the shop, Bircham shot at a seemingly empty goal. Somehow the keeper managed to get back and save the shot, with Bircham dwelling just a few seconds too long.

Worse

If it was bad in the first half, it was worse in the second. We’d mustered a couple of vague chances in the first 45 minutes, but apart from a Shaw effort that went straight at the keeper and a Grant set piece that went just over, we failed utterly to produce any worthwhile shots on goal in the second half. We were lucky not to go 3-0 down as early as the 48th minute when Lavin, trying to be too elaborate was edged off of the ball leaving the winger with a clear run on goal. Fortunately his shot went just over.

On 50 minutes it seemed as if Rhino realised that neither Shaw or Harris looked vaguely like making any use of the long balls being knocked at them, and brought on Richard Sadlier for Harris. Lanky sod or not, we all know Sadlier is pretty mediocre in the air. It did seem to make some difference, though, with Millwall creating a couple of half chances that were easily cleared. It was during this period of almost-pressure that Grant had his set piece go just over, but that signalled the end of any Millwall competence, and we reverted to the crap we’d been watching up until that point.

The third goal for Walsall looked only a matter of time, and we were lucky when it didn’t arise from a fluffed Roberts kick. It went straight to the Walsall player, who controlled it with his arm. As ever the referee seemed to be somewhere in Peru, he was so far behind play, and Roberts found himself in a one-on-one situation. He just did enough to put the player off and the shot went wide.

Rhino brought his last sub on when Cahill came on for Newman, but we just weren’t at the races and the inevitable third goal came from our one of our own free kicks. The move broke down, giving Walsall the ball down the wing, and with the defence all over the shop he charged to the byline and hit the ball low across the face of goal. Roberts was nowhere and the first shot was actually backheeled off of the line by Robbie Ryan, but it wasn’t enough and the follow-up was walloped into the net.

And that was it. Looking over my notes I’ve probably written the least I’ve ever written in the last few years — there was hardly anything worth reporting from start to finish. Walsall weren’t any kind of all conquering super-team by any measure, we just didn’t play and we allowed the home side to make themselves look good.

Hardly anyone emerged with any credit from this one. Robbie Ryan did OK when moved into his proper position and probably by default gets man of the match. Stuart Nethercott was also slightly less crap than everyone else, but those two aside it was abysmal. Tony Roberts will almost certainly find himself dropped if another display like that is forthcoming. Lavin ran about and made a couple of tackles, but really didn’t do an awful lot and Fitzgerald looked decidely dodgy at times. Bowry did bugger all, Bircham ran about like a headless chicken, Newman was totally anonymous and poor Kim Grant didn’t have a clue what he was supposed to be doing as a winger. Up front, both strikers tried hard enough but was never ever going to achieve anything without the assistance of a small portable step laddder.

Some awful fixtures this week. Preston away on Tuesday is followed by Swansea away on Friday in the cup. I can’t see us getting an awful lot of change from Preston, who are playing extremely well at the moment, and for that matter I can’t see us getting much change from Swansea if we play like we did yesterday. God, it’s good to be back… I don’t think.

Argie Bargie for Saddlers

roger6 @ 6:44 pm Thursday 05 November 1998

The Saddlers look like signing Argentine striker Walter Otta on a short term deal in time for this weekend’s game with Millwall.
The 24 year old has impressed Ray Graydon with recent performances in reserve games, and scored a hat-trick in midweek.
Otta had a trial with Leicester earlier in the season, but Martin O’Neil opted not to take things any further.
Here’s an extract from the infamous Leicester Mercury describing Otta’s impact in a trial game:

Leicester City manager Martin O’Neill is not getting too carried away with the impressive impact at Woking last night by trialist attacker Walter Otta, who capped the 2-0 win with a fine goal.

To correct the initial information from the club, Otta is a 24-year-old Argentinian who plays his football in Chile for Temuco, on loan from his main club Puerto Mont, and has already scored seven goals in seven games at the start of the season there.

Last night it was easy to see how he has come by that record.

After scoring his goal, he sent a spectacular diving header against the post and, playing in only the second half, looked one of City’s brightest players.

O’Neill said: “He took his goal very well and played all right but, the way we played in the first half, it would not have been difficult for him to improve things.

“We were lethargic, which is a concern considering we were only five days away from Premiership football. But we were much better in the second half and Otta showed up well.

“I would need to be a genius to make up my mind about him based on only 45 minutes. He arrived on Saturday and that was the first real look we have had. He will have the next seven to 10 days to show us more.”

Bristol Rovers 4 Walsall 3

roger6 @ 6:45 pm Monday 02 November 1998

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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