Writer: Alsop Richards
Date:Saturday April 14 2007
Walsall arrived at Meadow Lane knowing a win or matching MK Dons' result would mean promotion to League One. Notts had been resurgent recently and had won four straight on the bounce to give them a chance of the play offs.
Walsall made 2 changes to their line up, Pead was in for Emmanuel Smith with Westwood going to centre half. The other change was Kevin Cooper in for Mark Wright. County had Jason Lee-pineapple who was joined up front by James Walker. No not former Walsall legend shop stopper Jimmy but a pacy young winger. At the back County were missing the influential Alan White who had joined Peterbororugh on an initial loan switch.
The Saddlers had a large following. The Kop end of the Meadow ground holds 5,400 but the County must have been expecting less as they intially refused entry to away supporters into the top secton of the stand. Eventually as the supporters flowed in and gathered in aisles and on each other's toes the police allowed the supporters entry into the top section. Afterward Notts County would say that there was an away following of 2,500 out of the 7080 crowd but as I was at the game and I am numerical competent I can tell you there was about 4,200 Saddlers fans. The County were made to look even more incompetent by the fact that they had failed to employ any ball boys for the match. This left gaps in play where players and stewards would have to chase after loose balls.
It was the Saddlers who started the brightest and they forced a number of throw-ins on the right flank. But County and their silent fans except their one sole drummer soon began to look the more forceful and started to dominate play. While the Walsall players looked nervous and allowed the ball to bounce instead of dealing with the situation. This is exactly what happened after ten minutes. Pilkington played a long dead ball down the right flank, Fox let the ball bounce and dallied on what to do. The pacy Lawrie Dudfield nipped in and took the ball to the line he crossed to Walker. The young man took the ball on and nipped it around Ince only to see the ball hit the upright. Westwood and Gerrard raced onto the loose ball but Lee flicked it back to Walker who could only fire into the side nettting. The young man was unlucky but he was also offside, so it wouldn't have mattered.
The Saddlers broke soon afterward, Cooper flicked the ball to Harper who took on Pipe on the right wing. Harper looked up and shot to lob Pilkington, the ball took a wild deflection and looped over the former Manchester United keeper, much to the away fans delight. But what Walsall did then was they got deeper and deeper into their own box. Pead was having an extremely uncomfortable afternooon, Gerrard and Westwood looked solid but were badly let down by Keates and Dobson who never got the ball on the floor or took hold of the game. The thing with Jason Lee is if he doesn't catch you with his arms on the way up he'll catch you with his elbows on the way down. The big man indirectly led to the Notts equaliser. Losing out in the air to Gerrard he deliberately elbowed the young scouser in the face. The Referee waited to see if County would score from the foul and when Keates hooked the ball over the half way line the Referre blew up for some medical attention. Gerrard was dazed and confused but not as much as his teammates as the Referee gave a contested drop ball just outside the Walsall penalty area. Now the drop ball should have been given where the ball was when the whistle was blew, which for the records was well inside the County half, but the Referee showed why he'll probably be in the lower two divisions all his life, total incompetence.
The drop ball was contested and bounced loose up to Pead who could only volley across his own penalty area. The ball came to Pipe but he took a heavy touch. Keates nipped in and looked to shield the ball out of play. Unfortunately the ball did not go out and Pipe hooked the ball across the area. Dudfield came in with a free bullet header but his header went straight into Lee, but much to his delight the ball bounced back to him and he half volleyed into the roof of the net. Walsall were like a heavy weight boxer against the ropes as they held on for the half time whistle.
Walsall started the second half making two changes, Kris Taylor on for injured Gerrard with Fox going to centre half and Wrack coming on for the ineffective Kevin Cooper. From the first minute of the second half to around the seventy fifth minute, Notts County were absolutely dominant and Walsall sat back and hoped to get a goal on the break. They came to life after Butler chased down a long bouncing ball and Pilkington dropped the ball under a legal challenge for the ball, only for the Ref to give the all to easy foul on the Keeper, all Refs do this unless Walsall are away at Mansfield. Pead was injured and Mannie Smith came on with Westwood going to right back. Smith was an immediate calming presence at the back and the Saddlers started to look calm and measured in the rookie's guidance.
A goal mouth scramble ensued as Walsall came through the Notts County storm, a scramble that left two home defenders with head injuries. It seemed to be that Walsall were coming to the fore, they looked like the only team who could win this. Steve Thompson got more anxious and got more and more players forward, showing his incredible tactical incompetence. Please note Fat Neil Warnock-like manager, taking off midfielders and replacing them with attacking wingers means you're going to be left open at the back. Walsall finally got the break through on eighty three minutes, Trevor Benjamin had put in a poor Walsall performance but there was no one you would have wanted more to be on the end of a bouncing through ball. The ex-Leicester City outmuscled two County defenders and then picked his spot volleying in off the far post. For the second week running Walsall had got their lucky break which was badly due with the season we have had so far. Now with Smith at the back Walsall looked solid and County wouldn't have scored if they would have had five hours of overtime instead of the five minutes they were given.
The whistle blew and Walsall were in League One much to the delight of their fans. Memories were made and legends were set in stone, Richard Money now has one of the best reputations outside the Premiership, Walsall will do lucky to keep hold of him. Walsall remained in second place and the fight for the Championship seemingly will go down to the wire with Hartlepool's impressive win at Wycombe Wanderes. But Walsall will be there and if they do lose out on the silverware it must be noted it took a very good side to beat them to it. There was a bad atmosphere outside the ground as County fans seemed hard-done-by by Benjamin's late goal. But what they need to remember is Walsall put in an extremely poor performace full of nerves and anxiety and we still beat you, just imagine what we could have done to you in top gear.
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Date:Saturday April 14 2007
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