Archive for May, 1999

Walsall 2 Fulham 2

roger6 @ 6:32 pm Tuesday 04 May 1999

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Larusson, Viveash, Roper
Wrack (sub 78 mins Carter), Steiner (sub 74 min Eyjolfsson), Rammell, Keates, Mavrak

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Matchfacts

Steve Hayward, Fulham’s Walsall-born midfielder, denied The Saddlers a memorable victory with an explosive late 30-yard rocket. The Cottagers were often too casual and the home side twice took the lead, but the Champions showed their class by hitting back to equalise. There was little difference in the quality of play despite the fact that the Londoners had spent heavily, while Walsall have forked out just £35,000 in signing Richard Green
GOALS

1-0 Walsall 40 mins Steiner
the striker raced cleared from the halfway-line and saw his first shot hit the post, but calmly collected the rebound to slot home a low shot to the left of ‘keeper Taylor

1-1 Fulham 44 mins Smith, J
Coleman’s long diagonal pass found the the full-back, who cut in to score with a right-footed angled shot past Walker

2-1 Walsall 70 mins Roper
Keates’ free-kick was headed goalwards by Viveash, but Taylor parried the effort out for the striker to knock the ball home from close range

2-2 Fulham 88 mins Hayward
the Walsall-born midfielder crashed home a 30-yard right-footed rocket which flew past ‘keeper Walker

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Express & Star

Bescot revelled in a night of celebration as it turned its back on Second Division football with the result, for once, immaterial.
With the two top guests under the same roof, it was time to continue the party. After Saturday’s mixture of joy and relief, this was carnival time as Walsall and Fulham indulged in a spot of mutual back-slapping.

The visitors may have put a slight dampener on spirits by twice coming from behind to deny Saddlers ending their home campaign on a winning note, but the night was about much more than the destination of three points.

It was about saluting their players of the year, Jimmy Walker and Ian Roper. And it was a night when Ray Graydon received some long overdue national recognition. Above all, however, it was time to bask in glory and reflect on arguably the best season in Walsall’s history.

The fans applauded each other, the managers applauded each other as a feeling of mutual respect, highlighted by the guard of honour Fulham formed as Walsall entered the fray.

It was a nice touch on a nice evening, as was Kevin Keegan’s gesture in presenting Graydon with the Manager of the Month award.

There are not many who manage to upstage Keegan but Graydon did – and his team so nearly followed suit. The runaway champions, constructed by Al Fayed’s millions, were saved by what the Saddlers boss described as “a strike you would have gone a million miles to see.”

Given the feeling of warmth generated before kick-off, it was no surprise that the first half didn’t really burst into life. At times it resembled a pre-season friendly with net pockets of play but lacking the usual cut and thrust of a traditional league game.

That was understandable, with one side having achieved their target for the season and another having surpassed their wildest dreams.

It was the champions who looked the more likely scorers early on with their lively front duo of Barry Hayles and Kirk Lehmann causing one or two uncomfortable moments for Walsall’s rearguard.

It’s a sign of the quality Keegan has assembled when he can unleash Lehmann and Hayles and yet have Paul Moody sitting on the bench with Geoff Horsfield and Paul Peschisolido watching from the stand.

Lehmann and Hayles wasted a couple of good early opportunities before Walsall, prompted by Bjarni Larusson, started to come more into the contest.

After Lehmann had again fired over, on-loan Rob Steiner pounced to bag his third goal since his deadline day arrival from Bradford.

The strike came from a Fulham corner with Walsall turning defence rapidly into attack with Steiner cutting inside ex-Wolves defender Jamie Smith and firing past Maik Taylor.

However Keegan’s men drew level on the stroke of half-time when Smith latched onto Chris Coleman’s defence-splitting pass to finish emphatically.

The tempo was raised after the break and again it was Fulham who threatened with Walker dashing from his line to smother a Hayles shot and then Coleman firing just wide.

But again Saddlers struck first with Roper rounding off a memorable night that had seen him lift the Young Player of The Year award by bagging his first League goal.

Graydon sent on youngster Alfie Carter for his first team bow in place of Darren Wrack but Fulham snatched a draw courtesy of a moment of pure class from Walsall- born midfielder Steve Hayward.

He had been roundly booed on his return to the Midlands due to an incident in his Carlisle days that left former Walsall defender Stuart Ryder needing knee surgery and his popularity will have sunk even lower as he unleashed a 25-yard drive into the top corner.

In the end the outcome was just about right with neither side deserving to leave empty-handed.

The evening ended as it had begun with more prizes dished out as the Walsall lads came out two by two to collect their medals.

But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the man of the moment as Graydon marched forward with skipper Neil Pointon to receive the runners-up trophy.

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Express Live

An entertaining match between Second Division champions Fulham and runners-up Walsall ended all square at 2-2 at Bescot Stadium.
The Fulham players formed a guard of honour at the start to congratulate Walsall on joining them in the First Division next season, but it was the Saddlers who took the lead five minutes from half-time.

Croatian Darko Mavrak slid a pass through the middle for Rob Steiner, on loan from Bradford City, to go through and hit a post _ but he collected the rebound, turned a defender and scored his third goal for the club.

In stoppage time at the end of the first-half Jamie Smith, on loan from Crystal Palace, equalised with a beauty for Fulham from Chris Coleman’s stunning pass.

Walsall regained the lead in the 70th minute when central defender Ian Roper notched his first league goal for the club after Maik taylor could only parry an Adrian Vivash header from Dean Keates’ free-kick.

But just when the cut-price Saddlers looked like clinching all three points, Fulham’s £12million team equalised two minutes from the end.

Ironically, Walsall-born midfielder Steve Hayward struck a magnificent shot from 30 yards which flew into the top corner.

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Daily Mirror

Kevin Keegan is backing Walsall to survive alongside Fulham in the First Division next season.
After last night’s pulsating draw, the England and Fulham boss praised what Walsall boss Ray Graydon has achieved on a shoe string

The England manager said: “Walsall are a footballing side and it should suit them higher up.

“Ray Graydon has proved that he is very shrewd and I don’t see why they shouldn’t survive.”

The battle of the Second Division’s promoted clubs produced some great open football, with both sides scoring a good goal shortly before the interval.

Walsall who took the lead from a quick counter-attack five minutes before the break.

Croatian Darko Mavrak sent Rob Steiner on a 50-yard run. The Swedish striker’s low shot deflect off Jamie Smith onto a post but he gathered again to score past the helpless Maik Taylor.

Fulham struck back moments before the interval when a fine ball by Chris Coleman sent Smith clear to leave Walker no chance.

Walsall regained the lead after 70 minutes when a sweeping free-kick by Dean Keates was headed back by Adrian Viveash for Ian Roper to score from close range.

Two minutes from time Fulham equalised in spectacular fashion when Hayward unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt which flew in.

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The Times

WHEN Fulham, the Nationwide League second division champions, met Walsall, the runners-up, at the Bescot Stadium last night, a good time was had by all. The rival fans applauded each other, the players moved out of second gear only rarely and the points were shared when Steve Hayward, the Fulham midfield player, thundered in a 20-yard drive in the 86th minute. It might be a shade more competitive when the sides meet again in the first division next seaon.
The Fulham players set the tone by forming a guard of honour as their Walsall counterparts ran on to the pitch. Kevin Keegan, Fulham’s chief operating officer, and the England coach in his spare time, then presented Ray Graydon, the Walsall manager, with his manager of the month award for April and a vigorous hug.

Fulham, fielding a weakened side, appeared marginally the more interested in the early stages.Walsall gradually upped the tempo and were rewarded, in the 25th minute. A mistake by McAnespie was seized on by Mavrak, who sent Steiner clear. His intial effort was deflected on to a post, but Steiner quickly gathered the rebound and beat Taylor.

However, one minute into first-half stoppage time, Coleman released Smith and he cut in from the right to beat Walker with a low right-footed shot.

Keegan has no truck with mediocrity and Fulham reappeared in the second half as if they had received a few choice words from their lord and master but it was Walsall who regained the lead in the 69th minute. Keates’s free kick, from the right-hand side, was headed goalwards by Viveash at the far post, Taylor managed only to parry it and Roper smashed the loose ball into the roof of the net.

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The Independent

STEVE HAYWARD, Fulham’s Walsall-born midfielder, saved the Second Division champions from an undeserved defeat by his home-town club and the side who will follow them up with a spectacular strike from 30 yards with two minutes remaining at Bescot Stadium last night.
Walsall looked set for another prestigious scalp when Ian Roper restored their lead 20 minutes from time, earlier goals by the on-loan pair of Rob Steiner and James Smith having sent the teams in level at the interval.

The near capacity crowd resembled a mutual admiration society, with the rival supporters applauding each other’s songs. The mood was contagious. Fulham’s players formed a guard of honour to applaud the runners-up on to the pitch, while Kevin Keegan and Ray Graydon hugged like theatreland luvvies when the England coach presented his Walsall counterpart with the divisional Manager of the Month award.

Graydon’s success on a shoestring budget provides a template for cash-strapped clubs everywhere, as well as contrasting vividly with Keegan’s £12m outlay at Craven Cottage. Not a single member of Walsall’s starting line-up cost a fee, and they needed all their renowned spirit and organisation to withstand a strong opening by Fulham.

Barry Hayles, one of two £2m players in the visitors’ side, appeared determined to settle the game on his own by half-time. After only five minutes his goalbound shot from Smith’s cross thudded into a defender six yards out. Then, after a sinewy surge from 40 yards out had bamboozled the Saddlers’ back line on the quarter-hour mark, he dragged his drive wide.

Steiner had wasted Walsall’s only opening, heading straight at Maik Taylor from Dean Keates’ centre, before putting them ahead after 40 minutes. A Fulham corner was hacked clear to the Croatian, Darko Mavrak, who sent Steiner scampering over the halfway line. The Swede’s initial shot deflected off Smith onto the post, but he kept his composure to slot in the rebound.

Fulham drew level on the stroke of half-time. Chris Coleman showed a midfielder’s vision and passing accuracy with a long crossfield ball which picked out Smith’s run. From the right-hand angle of the penalty area, the wing-back’s angled drive tore past James Walker in the Walsall goal.

Hayward almost fired Fulham ahead with a 58th minute free- kick which flashed past the upright. Walsall came under increasing pressure as Keegan’s team went in search of the goal that might take them past the 100-point mark.

Walsall struck again when apparently struggling to stay on terms. A free-kick by Keates was met at the far post by Adrian Viveash, whose downward header was pushed in by his fellow centre-back Roper.

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Football Unlimited

As an encore to the promotion celebrations which began three days before in recognition of their remarkable achievement in returning to the First Division after an absence of 10 years, Walsall were two minutes away from defeating the champions last night.
Then Steve Hayward, Walsall-born but a stalwart of Fulham’s victorious campaign, cracked home an equaliser from 25 yards.

Ray Graydon’s team were disappointed but quickly got over it as the evening ended with them receiving their runners-up medals. Graydon had been delighted to avoid the monthly managerial award all season, believing it is a curse and inevitably brings defeat in the next outing. Personal success has caught up with him at last, however, and before the game he received his champagne prize for April’s achievement of five victories.

Kevin Keegan had a hand in the presentation and has also promised to hand over the manager of the year award, should he be voted the winner, to the Walsall man in deference to what Graydon has built on resources that are meagre alongside Preston, let alone mega-millionaires Fulham.

With both sets of fans quick to applaud each other – what a novelty that is – and Fulham forming a commemorative line of honour to salute Walsall’s entrance on to the pitch, the occasion had significantly less tension than it would have had on March 27, the original fixture date before Keegan decided to take on additional commitments with England.

Nevertheless, nobody was hanging back once the whistle went, Fulham demonstrating what an incisive force they are at this level with Dirk Lehmann given a rare starting appearance and anxious to make his presence felt.

Twice the lanky German lifted efforts high over while Barry Hayles, involved in both moves and exuding speed and strength, saw one forceful run end with a low shot that slipped just wide of an upright.

Walsall had struggled to earn the same freedom, but were helped into a 40th- minute lead when, following a Fulham corner, Darko Mavrak was permitted possession and immediately sent Bob Steiner surging through. His initial attempt hit the post before the loan striker skilfully tucked the rebound away.

The lead lasted only six minutes before Jamie Smith took control of Chris Coleman’s long, diagonal pass and thumped his drive into the far corner. Then, midway through the second half, after Maik Taylor had saved from Adrian Viveash, Ian Roper restored Walsall’s advantage.

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We\’re up!

roger6 @ 6:34 pm Saturday 01 May 1999

Magnificent display has put the Saddlers up. Steve Roy is at this moment drowning somewhere in lager but it’s his colleague Bob Owens here in London to bring you the news that the Saddlers are in Division 1 next year, thanks to two first half goals from Darren Wrack and Chris Marsh, and a second half effort, just as we were getting nervous, from super-sub Siggy.

Goodbye Luton, Goodbye Wrexham, see you in 5 years. The Saddlers are up, Sir Ray has done the business, his manager’s award will come this week.

Make no mistake, the support from the thousands of internet fans has been tremendous. This site is being overhauled in the close season, and will be back better than ever as we witness the new dawn at Bescot. First division football has returned!

Walsall 3 Oldham 1

roger6 @ 6:30 pm Saturday 01 May 1999

THE TEAM
Walker; Marsh, Pointon, Henry, Viveash, Roper
Wrack, Steiner (sub 56 min Eyjolfsson), Rammell (sub 89 min Green), Keates (sub 77 Larusson), Brissett

By Steve Roy

A day many of the 9,000 + at Bescot will live long in the memory, as Sir Ray Graydon completed what many saw as an impossible task – on a shoestring budget taking last year’s strugglers to promotion to the 1st division.
The game began with Oldham having better possession, at least for the first ten minutes or so. Oldham had a chance from a header that super Jim tipped over, then the resulting Oldham corner was cleared to Steiner, who raced from the half-way line only to put his shot within the reach of keeper Gary Kelly. A major difference between the two sides was the central defence – in Ade Viveash and Ian Roper, Walsall had a wall of steel, whilst Oldham’s looked vulnerable to any swift attack.

There was a small alarm amongst the packed stands when 13 goal Darren Wrack clashed heads with Oldham’s Paul Reid – Wrack had to go off for at least five minutes to have stitches, and we wondered whether we’d see him back. But shortly after a hero’s return greeted him, it was Dazza who struck the first goal. A long Neil Pointon cross from the half-way line wasn’t dealt with by the keeper under pressure from Steiner, and from a narrow angle Wrack was able to fire the ball home.

We were up off our seats – the first shouts of “Stand Up if you’re going up” – and a sense it could be our day.

The Saddlers’ side had a good balance to it – with the recalled Jason Brissett perhaps earning one last chance from Sir Ray. Brissett was making some lively runs, with Rammell and Steiner looking an aerial menace.

Now to be honest I missed the second goal, because on 34 minutes four pints caught up with me. From the confines of the toilet I heard what sounded a muffled cheer, and I presumed Oldham had equalised. My delight was therefore doubled when I emerged to see everyone on their feet again and confirmation that Chris Marsh had got number 2. Walsall’s servant of 12 years had been put in by Steiner following a great pass from Nick Henry, playing against his former club.

In the second half Oldham had a good spell for about 20 minutes, and were rewarded on the hour when a fine header left Walker no chance. It quietened us down a bit but Walsall steadied the ship and a bit of magic from Sir Ray sealed the points.

With just over 20 minutes to go Ray threw on super sub Siggy. Minutes later great work from the born-again Brissett on the left put in the Icelander. He took a bit of time to compose himself, and placed the ball into the corner to put the Saddlers 3-1 and into dream land.

The last 15 minutes were a bit of a blur, Oldham did hit the bar in the last minute, but nobody cared. The pitch announcer said Ray and the lads would do a lap of honour if we stayed off the pitch, but it was never going to happen, and on the final whistle thousands of Saddlers fans relishing this amazing season of achievement exploded on to the turf. After a few minutes the players appeared, we all sang “let’s all have a disco” and finally the Messiah Graydon came out of the darkness and a great light shone upon him.

Before super Jim tipped champagne over his nice new jacket.

Matchfacts

Walsall completed their fairytale success by achieving automatic promotion with this convincing win. However, Oldham remain firmly entrenched in the relegation zone. Walsall moved into a commanding first-half lead, but were unnerved by Duxbury’s goal. Substitute Siggy Eyjolfsson was the man of the hour when he notched the third goal to put the issue beyond doubt
GOALS

1-0 Walsall 22 mins Wrack
left-wing cross from Neil Pointon was missed by Gary Kelly as he was challenged by Robert Steiner and the ball ran to Darren Wrack who scored with an angled right-foot shot from 18 yards

2-0 Walsall 34 mins Marsh
a pass by Steiner sent the defender galloping through to score with a right-foot shot from 12 yards

2-1 Oldham 56 mins Duxbury
a Sheridan cross from the right was headed home by the Oldham skipper from six yards

3-1 Walsall 76 mins Eyjolfsson
the substitute scored just ten minutes after coming off the bench with a left-foot shot from just inside the penalty area

Express & Star

What a day, what a season, what an achievement.
Stunning. Incredible. Downright unbelievable. Call it what you will, but what has happened at Bescot during this season is one of the most heart-warming football tales of recent years.

Walsall have provided a template for the country’s smaller clubs to admire and try to emulate; a Ray of hope for the less-fancied, less-affluent clubs in this money orientated age of football

The minnows out gunning the big-boys. The underdogs having not just a one-off day to remember, so often associated with cup exploits, but nine months of pure fantasy football.

The story has been scripted by a man who at 50 was sampling management for the first time, and acted out by what must be one of the most tightly-knit group of players in English football.

Andy Rammell’s contribution will stand out after his goalscoring efforts and leadership up front, Darren Wrack’s fleet-footed skills have gained national recognition while Jimmy Walker’s faultless displays of keeping have seen him lift the player of the season award.

But this has been very much a TEAM effort. The bond that has been forged within the confines of the dressing room has been taken to the field week in, week out and has pushed them on to greater efforts.

Graydon has been the focus of much media attention during the past week. Rightly so, because he is without doubt the managerial star of the season, but the response from his players deserves great credit and plenty of plaudits.

He may have shelled out only a paltry £35,000 in transfer fees, but Graydon inherited some solid Second Division performers. That collection has been added to with free transfers and loan captures, but the real key to this success is that Graydon has improved every player at the club.

They have listened, they have learned and taken on board his thoughts on discipline and professionalism, and all that was climaxed in 90 minutes on Saturday when the dream became reality.

Walsall in the First Division – sounds good, doesn’t it? So let’s say it again. Walsall in the First Division.

I doubt if it has quite yet sunk in, to either the players or the majority of the 9,000 plus souls who turned Bescot into a carnival of noise and celebration on Saturday afternoon.

Only when the season has finished will the true measure of what Graydon and his blazing Saddlers have achieved during this never-to-be-forgotten sea-son sink in.

The tension has been mounting in recent weeks as the finish line approached, and there were probably still plenty of Saddlers fans in the crowd on Saturday, thinking there is still time for it all to go wrong.

Well, it didn’t. There was no stage fright, no late show of nerves from the players. Just a steely determination to get the job done and claim the reward they truly deserve for their efforts.

Oldham were not given the chance to gatecrash the party. Apart from a lively opening and a 10-minute flurry in the second half they were forced to play second fiddle to a side intent on seizing the moment.

The game exploded into life with both keepers forced into early saves, Walker producing an acrobatic effort to tip over the type of Rammell header we are more used to seeing at the other end as the striker attempted to clear Andrew Holt’s long throw.

Within 30 seconds Rob Steiner was galloping clear from the halfway line only for Gary Kelly to push away his shot.

The end to end nature of the game continued, but whereas The Latics’ thrusts forward ran aground on the rock-like presence of Ian Roper and Adrian Viveash, Saddlers looked capable of opening the visiting defence up at will.

The hectic start saw both sides temporarily reduced to 10 men with Wrack and Oldham wing-back Paul Reid having to leave the fray after a clash of heads.

Wrack, with six stitches inserted in a gash above his eye, announced his return to action in stunning fashion with a tension-lifting opener after 22 minutes.

The winger has bagged some priceless goals this season, but none has been more welcome than the crisp right-foot finish he produced after Kelly had spilled Neil Pointon’s cross under a stern challenge from Rob Steiner.

It was as much a sense of relief as joy that swept round the terraces, and with Oldham’s rearguard struggling to cope with the physical presence of Rammell and Steiner, plus the pace and trickery of Wrack and Brissett, more goals looked certain.

The second duly followed, created by former Oldham man Nick Henry, whose delightful ball picked out Steiner who in turn slipped a short pass from which the on-rushing Chris Marsh provided the clinical finish before setting off for some serious celebrating.

The joy that greeted this goal hammered home the reality that Walsall were nearly there; that one foot had been firmly planted in the First Division.

At this juncture there looked no way back for the Lancashire outfit who could see their Second Division status being pulled from beneath them.

To their credit they managed to cause some doubts among the home support when skipper Lee Duxbury took advantage of some rare sloppiness in the Saddlers defence to plant a free header beyond the exposed Walker.

This made for an anxious moment or two, but Walsall still carried the greater threat – and thanks to another waft of the magic wand Graydon seems to possess, any fears of a dramatic comeback were abruptly ended by substitute Siggi Eyjolfsson.

The Icelandic striker,a cult figure with the Bescot faithful, appears to have this priceless knack of getting in the right positions at the right time.

He had only been on the pitch 10 minutes before he received a short pass from Brissett before offering a little feint one way and then firing home into the bottom corner.

The ground simply exploded in celebration and the final 15 minutes were played out in a carnival-like atmosphere. The fact that Shaun Garnett headed against the crossbar went largely unnoticed.

Bescot was ready to party and nothing was going to stop that. “Please keep off the pitch” was the message boomed out by the PA announcer. He was wasting his breath and even looking for help from Graydon would have proved fruitless.

Stopping the spontaneous invasion would have been one miracle too many.

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