Archive for May, 2004

Birch signs new deal

roger6 @ 9:49 am Friday 28 May 2004

Gary Birch today signed a new one year deal at Bescot, as next season’s squad begins to take shape. The 22 year old is believed to have turned down a two year deal at Barnsley – for whom he scored two goals in eight games on loan last season – to stay at Bescot.
“I’m overjoyed really.” said Birch, “I never wanted to leave the club it was just been a matter of sorting out the contract. It came as a bit of a shock that I was loaned to Barnsley last season to be honest, but I’ve played in the Second Division now so I know what it’s all about. It’s always nice to be wanted by managers and I was delighted that Merse got the job here because I have the upmost respect for him and I think he likes my style of play.”
Birch – a target of the Bescot boo boys – was frequently played out of position by old boss Colin Lee and was even coached as an emergency defender. His goal tally dwindled and he netted only four goals in 37 appearances. Birch will be looking to get a once promising career back on track at the forefront of Paul Merson’s promotion challenge. “This division should hold no fears for us. As long as we go out with a positive frame of mind, which I know we will, there could be some good times ahead. We have a good blend of youth and experience now so it should be an exciting season,” he added.

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Standing signs

roger6 @ 9:49 am Thursday 27 May 2004

Michael Standing today signed for Walsall as manager Paul Merson completed his first summer signing. The 23 year old central midfielder joins from crisis club Bradford, who were forced to make all their players available on free transfers. Standing has been a long term target of Merse and the pair were teammates at Villa together for three years. Standing moved to Villa from Brighton along with Gareth Barry, but failed to break into the Villa first team and moved to Bradford in 2002.

Trio Extend Stay

roger6 @ 9:50 am Monday 24 May 2004

Strikers Jorge Leitao and Matty Fryatt today extended their stays at Bescot whilst skipper Neil Emblen also signed a new one year deal.
Leitao – who has netted 44 goals in his four years at Bescot – and eighteen year old Fryatt have both signed two year deals. Today’s announcement follows the deals signed by Kris Taylor and Mark Wright last week. Merse also hopes to have Gary Birch, Darren Bazeley and Jimmy Walker signed up for next season. One player who won’t be extending his Bescot stay – Paul Ritchie – has been added to the Scotland squad for friendlies against Estonia and Trinidad & Tobago.

Trio Sign New Deals

roger6 @ 9:50 am Friday 21 May 2004

Winger Mark Wright and midfielder Kris Taylor have both signed new one year deals with the club.
Wright, 22, featured eleven times last season and netted twice. The son of former Saddlers’ star Evran said “I am very pleased to have sorted my immediate future out. My confidence has built up since Paul Merson has been in charge because he has allowed me to express myself.”
Cannock born Taylor, 20, joined Walsall after being released by Manchester United. He scored on his debut against Stoke last season and went on to make a further ten appearances. “I’m delighted to have put pen to paper on a new contract. These are exciting times to be at the club. I’m looking forward to working under Paul Merson; he has already stated that he will be giving the younger lads a chance and he is sure to have us playing exciting, attacking football which will suit me down to the ground.”

Roper Signs 3 Year Deal

roger6 @ 9:51 am Wednesday 12 May 2004

Ian Roper today signed a new three year deal at Bescot and will be in line for a testimonial if he sees out the contract. “He’s a massive player for me and I hope he realises that,” said Merson. “He’s not one of those confident, chirpy lads, but I’ve told him he’s got to realise he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet. He’s an out-and-out defender, so he’s a must.”
Also discussing new deals are experienced defenders Neil Emblen and Darren Bazeley. “If I can get Neil and ‘Baze’ to stay, and then we’ve got Zigor Aranalde, they are four top-drawer defenders at that level already with us.” said Merse.
Merson also hopes to keep Jimmy Walker, Mark Wright, Jorge Leitao and Gary Birch at Bescot – the latter of whom is wanted by Barnsley. Tykes’ manager Paul Hart also has his eye on defender Matt Carbon, who was today released by Walsall. Also on their way out of Bescot are Jermaine McSporran – who failed to really realise his potential on loan this season – and Pedro Matias, who had been loaned out to Blackpool.

Merson Appointed

roger6 @ 9:51 am Tuesday 11 May 2004

As was widely expected, Paul Merson was appointed player manager at Bescot on a permanent basis today. The former England midfielder then outlined his plans for next year, including a move for his former Villa team mate Michael Standing. The 23 year old central midfielder is available for free after cash strapped Bradford were forced to make all their players available for transfer. “I have worked with him before at Aston Villa and he’s someone I rate very highly”. said Merse, who also hopes to persuade Jimmy Walker to stay a Saddler. Merse, however, was forced to admit that Player of the Year Paul Ritchie has played his last game for the club.
“We’ve given five lads from the youth team (Ryan Willetts, Julian Bennett, Nathan Jameson, Daryl Taylor and Taiwo Atieno) professional contracts for next season, as well as agreeing a new deal with Ian Roper and bringing Gary Birch back from his loan spell at Barnsley. I am also hoping that James Walker and Neil Emblen will sign new contracts to give us a good blend of youth and experience in our squad.” said our new manager. Merson will also bring in a “young and enthusiastic” assistant manager, whilst Simon Osborn will take up a player coaching role.

Nine Released

roger6 @ 9:50 am Tuesday 11 May 2004

Paul Merson today announced a mini clear out at Bescot, releasing nine players. Youngsters Gavin Caines and Nick Smith have both failed to make the grade at Bescot, as has Mario Lopez Soler – a young Spaniard who was amongst the goals for last season’s successful reserve side. Also gone are Craig Burley, Jermaine McSporran and Lee Bradbury. All three were signed by Colin Lee as the former Saddlers boss attempted – unsuccessfully – to stave off relegation. Burley, in particular, didn’t even look match fit when he was able to turn out and his release is no surprise. The writing was on the wall for keeper Andy Petterson when he let in six on his debut and for winger Pedro Matias, who has been on loan at Blackpool. Matt Carbon is the ninth Saddler to be let go.
Jorge Leitao, Neil Emblen, Mark Wright, Kris Taylor, Darren Bazeley, James Walker, Gary Birch, Aaron Kerr and Andy Bishop are discussing new contracts. Ian Roper has already signed and will definitely feature next year alongside Matty Fryatt, Zigor Aranalde, Steve Corica, Darren Wrack, Simon Osborn and Merson. Youth team keeper Dean Coleman has been offered non-contract terms.

Down despite heroics

roger6 @ 10:52 am Sunday 09 May 2004

1st on the opening day down at the end

Saddlers fans worldwide are contemplating trips to Luton and Peterborough following relegation today to Division 2. All this despite a last day emotional rollercoaster at the Bescot as 10-man Walsall came back from conceding a last minute equaliser to beat Rotherham 3-2. Sadly in the Potteries Stoke were unable to live up to pre-match promises that they were going to put one over on Tony Pullis’s former club Gillingham. But in reality relegation was not solely caused by today’s events. What caused it? Fans can point variously to any of the following factors: a run-in that saw five successive defeats without a goal; a points tally in 2004 of just 16; the sacking of a manager with only six games to go in controversial circumstances; the loss of the star player at a critical point of the season; a lack of attacking invention throughout the campaign; and a failure to invest and choose the right combination of loan/short term signings. Where do Walsall go from here, and how long will it be before we’re back in the first division, are issues that are now being debated on the message board…

Walsall 3 Rotherham 2

roger6 @ 9:52 am Sunday 09 May 2004

Battling Walsall are down despite a thrilling 3-2 win over Rotherham today. Gillingham’s goalless draw at Stoke meant Walsall had to win by three clear goals – something they could have achieved but for two controversial Rotherham penalties.
Pushing forward from the off, Lee Bradbury was denied by a fabulous save from Millers’ keeper Mike Pollitt. The Saddlers were living dangerously in the first half, and were twice almost caught on the break. First, Michael Proctor found himself in the clear, but after rounding Jimmy Walker he somehow managed to fire wide. Then former Saddler Martin Butler found himself one on one with Walker, but as Butler delayed, Keith Andrews got back with a crucial last ditch challenge.
The Saddlers at last broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half; Lee Bradbury’s cross shot was scrambled in by Simon Osborn as Bescot went wild. With Walsall getting on top of their visitors, disaster struck in the 59th minute when Rotherham were awarded a penalty. Scott Minto brushed against Osborn and fell theatrically to the ground. Referee Brian Curson pointed to the spot and Proctor beat Walker to draw Rotherham level. Osborn was booked for protesting against the penalty decision and was sent off three minutes later, picking up another booking after a late challenge.
Walsall then sent on Mark Wright for Bradbury and he immediately restored our lead. Wrack’s shot was spilled by Pollit and with Leitao unable to force the ball home, Wright was on hand to slot home from a yard out.
Fryatt replaced Leitao and Aranalde came on for Bazeley as Walsall pushed forward.
Then, as full time neared Richie Barker was felled –dubiously – by Roper and Paul Warne drew Rotherham level again from the spot.
Merse set off goalwards from the kick off however, and when Andrews’s shot was turned over the bar, Player of the Season Paul Ritchie netted his first goal for the club with a towering header to make the final score 3-2. Unfortunately, top half Stoke were unable (or just not motivated enough) to beat lowly Gillingham and Merson’s Walsall were down.

Ritchie Wins Player of Season

roger6 @ 9:56 am Thursday 06 May 2004

Scottish defender Paul Ritchie has been voted Walsall player of the season for 2003/04. The no nonsense defender polled 32.2% of the vote. Keeper Jimmy Walker came in in second position with 21,4%, while defenders Neil Emblen (15.9%) and Ian Roper (14.9%)came third and fouth respectively.
England Under18 striker Matty Fryatt won the young player of the season award.

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