Writer: Robyn Richards
Date:Saturday May 7 2011
Saddlers clinched survival in league one despite a 3-1 defeat at Southampton today.
Saddlers put in an indifferent but positive performance but Peterborough's 5-0 drubbing of Dagenham and Redbridge saw Walsall live to fight in League One next season.
It was party time as 31,000 people packed St Marys in a game that would ultimately see both sets of fans jumping with happiness, a rare spectacle in football. The Saints just needed to get a small result and automatic promotion was theirs.
The game started and Walsall were on the backfoot, Southampton were slick,polished and showing lots of quality.
Walker had to make some classy fingertip saves to keep the score level as well as some last gasp defending.
A Saints goal had been coming and they took the lead on 26 minutes when Guly Do Prado fired to make it 1-0.
The Saints made it 2-0 down in quick succession when David Connolly put the ball past Jimmy Walker and the defence let the ball slip on 29 minutes. Peterborugh were just 1-0 up at it sent nerves jangling amongst the 1,900+ strong visiting support.
Gbarssin was substitued on 35 minutes and young gun Will Grigg made his entrance. The Frenchmen quickly losing his cool on the huge occasion.
However on the stroke of half time, Gray came up trumps with a superb shot after being set up by Cook and Richards. Fantastic. 2-1.
The second half started and the noise was reverberating around the away end, singing was loud, adrenaline pumping and it was hard to believe it was the same team they were cheering. Walsall were spirited, trying to grind down their opponents and just do their job to secure survival for their faithful.
Walsall thought that they had brought the score level when Grigg narrowly missed the target and hit the side netting after being set up by Macken, Laird and Williams.
Ledesma then entered for Jordan Cook. The fiery Argentinian was just what Walsall needed at that point in the game.
He didn't have to wait long for a golden opportunity as he was teed up by Macken and Laird. The Saints keeper spilled the ball but somehow it stayed out of the net.
Walsall were getting back into the game as the Dagenham and Redbridge score slowly went up. 2-0 and Walsall went wild, survival was growing certain and it was hard not to start the party early.
Grigg then had a goal ruled offside as Walsall buzzed about, sharp but the ball not quite falling their way. Teenage whizz Alex Chamberlain entered for the homeside and didn't wait a moment before making it 3-1 with a sublime shot. Walsall losing but definitely not out.
Walsall marched on and the Dagenham score became 3-0 and then 4-0, Walsall had survived and it was (almost) certain.
The Walsall fans could hardly be contained of their excitement. The announcer then confirmed the 4-0 scoreline over the tannoy and it was a touching and tear jerking moment as the adjacent Saints supporters to the visitors gave them a standing ovation for the amazing feat of survival.
It was a distant dream to think staying up was possible at Christmas but now they were living the reality.
As the clock ticked down, the home and away supporters sang together, Walsall 'we are staying up' and Southampton 'we are going up' the same sentiment but different ends of the table.
As the clock ticked down the party was so close and the away fans were becoming impatient. The Saddler players were given updates from the sidelines as to the Dagenham score.
The final whistle came and the pitch was invaded by jubilant Southampton and some Walsall fans. A simply stunning atmosphere full of pride and joy and not a spot of grass was to be seen for celebrating fans. Some Walsall players came to the away end to cheer with the Saddlers but over excited fans saw them retreat to the changing room. They then returned to thank the fans once the commotion had died down a little.
The whole stadium was happy, us celebrating survival, them celebrating promotion. A very rare circumstance in football indeed.
It certainly made all the long journeys, frustrations, disappointments, cold weather and defeats 100% worth it for the Saddler faithful to be able to share in a day like today.
The Walsall players soaked their manager Dean Smith with Champagne in the dressing room as the players thanked him and celebrated the successful conclusion to a tumultuous season.
And that was it, Mission Complete, safety is ours and a collective sigh of relief will be heard around Walsall tonight. It is LEAGUE ONE football we will be playing next season!
We will revel some more in the happiness tomorrow with a jolly good knees up at the Player Awards at the Banks's Stadium.
Up The Saddlers!
Date:Saturday May 7 2011
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