Walsall have faced 21 top flight ties in the League Cup since its formation winning on six occasions. John Davies was the first Saddler to score in the competition in Walsall’s 1-3 defeat at Everton in 1960-1. Our first upset came in 1963-4 when Graham Newton got the only goal in a Fellows Park replay against Ipswich Town.
Then came a local ‘derby’ game with near neighbours West Bromwich Albion in 1965-6. Over 41,000 turned up at the Hawthons which resulted in a 1-3 defeat with Colin Taylor on target for Walsall.
There was better luck next season with a 2-1 home win against Stoke with Colin Taylor and Harry Middleton Walsall heroes in round two. Sheffield United ended Walsall’s run in round four with Taylor again on target as Saddlers bowed out 1-2 at Bramhall Lane.
1967-8 saw Walsall play hosts to West Ham United who’s line up included World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters in round two with over 17,000 present at Fellows Park. An Alec Jackson penalty was all Walsall had to show for all their effort in a 1-5 defeat. We had to wait untill 1973-4 for the next First Division opposition when Manchester City were the visitors.
Walsall held on for a 0-0 draw and in the replay at Maine Road won many friends with two hours of good football and stout defending which meant a second replay was needed. Old Trafford was the venue for this but Walsall went out 0-4. One goal was a Franny Lee penalty which he won with one of his famous dives.
Ten years was to pass before the next such game. It as well worth the wait as Alan Buckley’s men recorded a famous 2-1 victory at Highbury against Arsenal as the Super Saddlers roared back from being a goal down with Mark Rees and Ally Brown banging home the goals in round four. Walsall progressed as far as the two-legged semi finals against the might of Liverpool and enjoyed a fantastic night at Anfield when a Phil Neale own goal and a Kevin Summerfield strike earned Walsall a brilliant 2-2 draw. There was no mistake back at Fellows Park when Ian Rush and co ended Walsall’s Wembley dreams defeating the Saddlers 2-0.
Walsall’s biggest win against a top flight club came in the 1984-5 season. The second round first leg tie with Coventry City ended with a 1-2 defeat however Saddlers hit the headlines with a 3-0 win at Highfield Road with 19 year-old hot shot David Kelly hitting two and Richard O’Kelly notching the other. David Preece and Craig Shakespeare got Saddlers goals in a 2-2 draw at Fellows Park against Chelsea in the next round however the Londoners made no mistake in the replay winning 3-0.
The last big club to appear at Fellows Park were Liverpool in 1988-9 where Liverpool’s class was too much for the Saddlers. Despite a Craig Shakespeare goal Walsall lost 1-3 in a round two tie.
Chelsea twice visited Bescot Stadium in the first three seasons of its opening. 1990-1 the Blues ran out 5-0 winners here with Stuart Rimmer on target in a 1-4 reverse at Stamford Bridge. Two years later Walsall did a bit better, losing 0-3 at Bescot and 0-1 at The Bridge.
Next up was 1994-5 and Walsall beat West Ham 2-1 in the first leg of the second round tie. Stuart Watkiss and a Steve Potts own goal contributing towards a memorable night. In the second leg however, Walsall lost 2-0, unable to hang on to the first leg lead.
Following good wins against second tier clubs Notts Forest and Sheffield United in 1997-8 Walsall were drawn away at West Ham in round four but only had a Roger Boli goal to show in a 1-4 defeat in which a young Frank Lampard hit a hat trick.
Walsall made their first visit to the Stadium Of Light against Sunderland in 1999-2000 and were unlucky to go down 2-3 there. Gabby Bukran and a Rae own goal were on target for Walsall in a game officiated by former Saddler Steve Baines. Sunderland made no mistake at Bescot with a 5-0 thumping.
2000-1 again saw League Cup encounters with Premier League West Ham. The Hammers had Jermain Defoe to thank for a a 1-0 win at Bescot, scoring his first-ever senior career goal. In the return leg at Upton Park, the Saddlers put up a great fight and drew 1-1 with Jorge Leitao our scorer as we narrowly went out 1-2 on aggregate to Harry Redknapp’s men.
Over the next few years Saddlers were paired with Bolton three times. In 2001-2 extra time saw Bolton progress 4-3 at The Reebok and in the 2003-4 season they squeezed through 2-1. A terrific Walsall performance at Bescot in 2006-7 saw us go down 1-3 with a 74th minute Martin Butler goal cancelling out Nolan’s 68th minute opener. Two late goals saw the League Two Saddlers off with Champions League winner Ivan Campo, 88 minutes, and the hugely decorated Nicolas Anelka, 90 mins. It was a performance that gave the fans belief we could bounce back to League One at the first attempt.
Perhaps its time we had another top-flight scalp…….