Walsall 1 Manchester City 1
Saturday 23rd January 1999
Walker, Marsh, Pointon, Keates, Roper, Viveash, Wrack, Watson, Platt, Larusson, Brissett
Chris Miller’s Walsall site
Team – Platt deputised for the suspended Rambo, Viveash continued at the back due to Green’s injury. On the bench – Evans, Thomas and Ricketts.
First half – Even though City probably had more possession, the Saddlers had the better chances, with Platt sending a looping header just wide and a Deano effort clearing the bar. The second half though was much more open with chances at both ends before Andy Watson, on 68 minutes, managed to pull the ball from under his feet and tap in from about 6 inches after a cross from the left-hand side had been nodded on. Within a minute, City went close to an equaliser by hitting the bar and put tremendous pressure on the Saddlers defence before they managed to score on 74 minutes. A Viveash goal line clearance hitting the underside of the bar before Pollock nodded in at the far post.
At 1-1, City then sat back and allowed Walsall back into the game. Bjarni had two 20 yard drives late on, one of which was tipped round the post by the keeper. Deano also went close.
On the whole, an exciting game in front of a capacity crowd. Platty tried hard, but we really missed Rambo’s presence against a confident City defence. Bjarni, I though looked tired until Tommo started to warm up. I certainly don’t think he justified the man of the match award radio WM gave him. The sponsor’s choice was Marshy, but my vote went to Ian Roper (again!) – what a transformation he has been this season.
Preston’s win at Chesterfield puts them top and drops us down to third. On this showing though, I don’t think we should even consider the play-offs until there is no chance of an automatic promotion place. We’ve been second, we’re only one point off the top. It’s positions on May 8th that matter.
JAMIE POLLOCK’S first goal of the season was the perfect answer to manager Joe Royle’s request for more goals from his midfielders but it was not enough for either Royle or his captain Pollock.
Pollock said: “It’s a disgrace that I have not scored before this season but at least I am pleased to have got off the mark at last to stop Walsall getting even further ahead of us in the promotion race.”
Royle said: “This is not the result we wanted. We came here to win because we have ground to make up. But it is still feasible that we can claw back 11 points to the leaders and, despite the fact that their opening goal looked well off-side, I cannot, on the balance of play, really argue at the scoreline.”
The match was played at a tremendous tempo from start to finish and nobody could argue with Royle’s generous assessment that: “Walsall are in third place on merit.”
Both goalkeepers were kept busy, James Walker making some good saves with his legs, dealing well with dangerous set-pieces by City and making a magnificent 38th-minute save from an angled drive by City’s leading scorer Shaun Goater.
At the other end Nicky Weaver made the save of the match with a brilliant dive to his right just as a Bjarni Larusson 25-yard drive five minutes from the end looked like proving a match winner for Walsall.
Weaver, 19 and 6ft 3ins, is beginning to look a keeper in the traditions of Frank Swift, Bert Trautmann and Joe Corrigan, and is serving an excellent apprenticeship under coach Alex Stepney and receiving tremendous encouragement from Irish international Tommy Wright whom he is keeping out of the City side.
Walsall’s opening goal in the 67th minute was certainly deserved and involved in a five-pass move before Jason Brissett applied the final square ball across the goalmouth for Andy Watson to nudge it over the line.
City’s equaliser after 72 minutes was a result of Pollock’s never-say-die spirit as he dived in to head the ball over the line from close range amid a whirling hotchpotch of boots and bodies after Tony Vaughan’s blistering 20-yard drive had beaten Walker but rocketed downwards off the underside of the bar.
But there could be no doubt about the man of the match, Walsall right-back Chris Marsh, in his 12th season with the club but whose performance was of Premiership standard.
Walsall missed out on the chance to go top of Division Two, a win would have leapfrogged them over Fulham and they looked destined to reach the summit when Andy Watson gave them a second half lead. But battling City, who had enjoyed long spells of possession, were well worth a share of the spoils as they dominated for long spells
1-0 Walsall 67 mins Watson
Keates floated over a right-wing cross which Wrack headed across the face of the goal, Watson then had the simple task of turning the ball home at the far post
1-1 Man City 74 mins Pollock
Vaughan fired in a fierce long range drive that crashed off the underside of the bar and onto the goalline, Pollock was on hand to bundle the ball over the line with his head
IT WAS fitting that on the day Walsall removed Stoke City from the top of the Second Division they should be watched by a record League crowd at their eight-year-old Bescot Stadium.
Just over 9,000 supporters turned up to see Ray Graydon’s side make it seven league games unbeaten, six of which have been won, to join Fulham at the top of the table.
Graydon, who has transformed the fortunes of the West Midlands club in the six months he has been in charge, feared that his team might slip up just as it appeared that the fans were finally returning to see if the days of struggling were over.
“Very often it goes wrong when you build people up and drag supporters back to watch you,” he said. “It is not a case of letting people down, but just human nature. Players are human beings not robots.”
As it turned out, Graydon need not have worried. Walsall won this emotional derby in the 41st minute with the help of some quality midfield play by Icelandic import Bjarni Larusson and Dean Keates, plus a crucial contribution from two old stagers.
Full-back Neil Pointon, now 34 after a distinguished career at Oldham, Manchester City, Everton and Hearts, played a captain’s role with a powerful run, a clever nutmeg of a defender, then a perfect cross which 31-year-old top-scorer Andy Rammell dived full length to head beyond Carl Muggleton.
That was Rammell’s 12th goal of the season, but later he heaped praise on his team-mates. “They worked their socks off, and the defence was brilliant,” he said.
The goal was only the second Stoke had conceded in eight games and City manager Brian Little could not remember when, or even if, his team had been off the top of the table this season. He said: “That is probably our first setback. Now it will be interesting to see how we handle it. I am disappointed because I felt the match had nil-nil written all over it.”
Little refused to blame the decision to play former Walsall striker Kyle Lightbourne, who had been ill with flu. He lasted only 21 minutes before having to be replaced by Dean Crowe.
At the start of the campaign the image of Walsall squaring up to Manchester City bore all the hallmarks of a footballing mis-match.
Pre-season certainties for promotion against pre-season certainties for the drop, heavyweights pitched in with bantamweights – call it what you will, but these clubs are poles apart in terms of tradition, stature and expectancy.
But size isn’t everything. Good players, good organisation and good management – both on and off the pitch – are the key components to success, and at the moment it’s the big-boys who are playing catch up – 10 points and five places to be exact.
How can a club that can pull in an average attendance in excess of 27,000 in this division, have slipped into the lower reaches of the Football League?
Easy – City are paying the price for years of boardroom mis-management.
This is a club that has thrown countless millions away in their pursuit of glory.
This is a club who have hired and fired managers as if they were going out of fashion.
They are streets ahead of Walsall in most areas, but when it comes to running a football club, the minnows are way ahead on points.
It may all look so different at the end of the season. Recent evidence indicates that Joe Royle is starting to get to grips with the task of ensuring City’s first ever sortie into this level of English football will be a brief one.
But by the same token there are no grounds to suggest Saddlers are about to let slip the healthy advantage they currently hold over City.
A pulsating 90 minutes on Saturday in front of Bescot’s highest-ever League attendance offered both sides encouragement.
Perhaps there is even a case for Saddlers being the more delighted with a share of the spoils, despite missing out on the victory that would have left them heading the table.
Not only does it ensure City stay at arm’s length, but it was a point gained without the services of leading scoring Andy Rammell and by a side still suffering the after effects of Tuesday’s Auto Windscreens Shield marathon encounter at Brentford.
City would certainly have arrived in buoyant mood after picking up three wins and a draw from the last four encounters, and fresh from last Saturday’s 3-0 demolition of Fulham.
The momentum appeared to be with the men from Manchester as their high intensity power-play saw them just shade the opening 45 minutes.
Royle has steel straight down the spine of his side, from central defenders Gerard Wiekens, through to midfielder Jamie Pollock and striker Gareth Taylor, with all three not adverse to making their physical presence felt.
But if City thought they could come and muscle Saddlers out of it, they were sadly mistaken.
Graydon’s men might have been blown off course at Maine Road earlier in the season, but there was going to be no repeat showing.
Chances were few and far between during the first half as both defences took a vice-like grip.
Clive Platt, again proving a more than capable deputy for Rammell, saw one header loop agonisingly wide, while Jimmy Walker produced one smart reflex save to beat away Sean Goater’s fiercely-struck effort.
The contest really came to life after the interval as, for the umpteenth time this season, Saddlers picked up the tempo following a half-time cuppa.
The home fans have seen a number of crackers at Bescot over the past five months, but not many games will top this one for passion,and commitment. If supporters appreciate that, then Saddlers will have picked up more followers.
The game fairly rattled along, and it was no surprise when the deadlock was finally broken midway through the half.
Andy Watson was the man to strike, a just reward for another impressive, unselfish display of front running, prodding the ball home after a bout of penalty box pin-ball.
Sadly, the joy was short-lived. An intense spell of pressure following Watson’s goal saw Richard Edghill crash one long-range effort against the bar before Pollock headed in after Tony Vaughan had rattled the goal frame.
The drama didn’t end there as both sides strove to land the killer blow. It was the home side who came closest with Bjarni Larusson seeing one sweetly-struck shot fly inches wide before Nick Weaver produced the save of the day to deny the midfielder on the stroke of full time.
Defeat for either side would have been harsh. But it is Saddlers who hold the balance of power in the League and you wouldn’t back against that being the case four months from now.
Walsall missed the chance to go to the top of Division Two after a frantic battle with Manchester City at Bescot Stadium finished 1-1. Ray Graydon’s troops looked to be heading for the summit after Andy Watson’s 67th-minute opener, but City skipper Jamie Pollock saved his side with his first goal of the season. Joe Royle’s men looked to have broken the deadlock after 21 minutes when Sean Goater smashed the ball home but the goal was ruled out for an infringement. The Saddlers deservedly opened the scoring after 67 minutes when Darren Wrack nodded Dean Keats’ cross towards goal, the ball flashed across the six yard box and landed at the feet of Watson who made no mistake to bundle the ball home. City’s reply was almost instantaneous when Richard Edgehill’s thunderbolt crashed back off the Walsall bar from 25 yards and Terry Cooke’s rebound was blocked. The travelling fans were rewarded for their vocal support on 74 minutes when Tony Vaughan’s sweetly-struck effort thundered off the underside of the bar and down on to the goal line where Pollock reacted quickest to equalise. Walsall’s Icelandic midfielder Bjarni Larusson thought he had won the game with five minutes left when his long-range effort looked to be flying into the top corner but Weaver reacted to tip the ball away and earn City a point.