Following Walsall’s good start to the season there were two individual award winners announced in early September for their efforts in the opening month. Tommy Coakley won the Third Division’s Manager Of The Month award whilst talented midfielder Paul Jones won Sport In Style’s Player Of The Month award.
The opening game in September saw a visit to Fellows Park from table toppers Sunderland who certainly had most of the play in the early exchanges but Walsall’s defence were resolute and they weathered the storm before snatching the lead through David Kelly, notching his first goal of the season thanks to a fine pass from Nicky Cross. Before half time, however, poor marking allowed Keith Bertschin in and he made no mistake. Craig Shakespeare restored Walsall’s lead on 67 minutes but just when it looked that Walsall would hang on, up popped evergreen Bertschin again towards the end with a glorious finish so Saddlers had to settle for s 2-2 draw. One plus point, however, was the welcome return of striker Trevor Christie who came on as a substitute towards the end following his operation in the summer.The following Saturday Walsall were on the road to Rotherham. Coakley’s men showed showed their character to overcome The Millers to record a 1-0 win with Craig Shakespeare again on target to give Walsall their fourth successive away victory in all competitions which stretched their unbeaten run to seven games and saw them climb to the top of the table for the first time in three and a half years. Rotherham’s boss, former Leeds United boss Norman Hunter said afterwards, “They were better than us in every department. When they had the ball they did more with it.” The recalled Trevor Christie was easing his way back and everything was looking rosy.
The following Tuesday saw a home game against Bristol City as Walsall were looking to extend their lead at the top. Saddlers found it hard going though against Joe Jordan’s side and the former Leeds and Manchester United star was annoyed when his first half goal was ruled to be offside. A section of the home fans were barracking David Kelly because he had asked for a summer move and there were calls for him to be substituted. When Andy Llewellyn fired the visitors ahead in the 81st minute it looked like game over. Coakley refused to haul Kelly off and his faith in his striker was rewarded just four minutes from time when he accepted a Nicky Cross pass, drifted wide in the box and scored from a tight angle. Jordan had to admit to the press afterwards, “What a goal that was. It was of the highest quality. It was sheer brilliant finishing.” So Walsall’s spell as Third Division leaders was short lived but at least it was a point salvaged when all seemed lost.
The wheels came off a few days later on the Saturday with a 1-2 home defeat to Wigan Athletic. The visitors looked impressive and took a 26th minute lead through Paul Jewell. However after half time Wigan were putting as many as nine men behind the ball and Walsall simply couldn’t find a way through. Jewell got his second goal of the game on 77 minutes with a brave diving header. David Kelly pulled on back on 89 minutes but it was too little too late and it was a disappointment for the home fans as it seemed Walsall didn’t have the same confidence at home.
Next game on the horizon was a trip to face First Division strugglers Charlton at Selhurst Park in the Second Round First Leg of the Littlewoods Cup. Walsall were by far the better team in the first half and they had such a stranglehold on the play, despite not finding the net, that the home side booed off their team at half time. Colin Walsh put the Londoners ahead just after half time and were still looking okay before the defence allowed Garth Crooks to score two late goals to give Charlton a flattering 3-0 win.The Saddlers got their mid-month blues out of their system with a 2-0 away win at Grimsby Town. Going into the game Walsall were already without David Kelly due to injury and to make matters worse Trevor Christie went down with a virus on the morning of the game. Coakley decided to recall winger Willie Naughton-and thrusted him into a central striking position. The gamble paid off as it took Willie just 12 minutes to find the net. He also hit a post. Mark Taylor got Walsall’s second goal and they knew their day was complete when Fred Barber saved a Scot Mc Garvey penalty towards the end of the game. This result meant that Walsall had won their first four away games and were the only club in the whole of England and Scotland to have a 100% away record.There was a chance to extend that run with a trip to Bury for the final game of the month. Walsall sailed into a 2-0 half time lead thanks to goals from Graeme Forbes and Paul Jones. Saddlers were well worthy of this lead however the second half was a different story with goals from seasoned campaigners Noel Brotherston and Sammy Mc Ilroy giving The Shakers a share of the points. Walsall were lucky to come away with a point in the end but at least remained unbeaten away. The month ended with Walsall on 18 pts (just 5 obtained at home) a point behind leaders Bristol City.
Category: 1987/88 - The Promotion Season