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21 April 2017

A vital win that preserved the Saddlers' second-tier status...

21st April 2003 - Grimsby Town 0-1 Walsall

On a mild, wet Easter Monday in 2003, over 4,500 fans packed into Blundell Park to see Division One strugglers Grimsby Town take on visitors Walsall. The Saddlers needed just a point to retain their second-tier status. On the other hand, this match was a must win for the home side, who would be relegated from the division if they were to lose this match up.

Walsall fielded a strong side for this tie, with popular goalkeeper and former West Ham man James Walker between the sticks. The Saddlers defence saw Ian Roper, who made 325 appearances in Walsall colours, partnered with the well-travelled Tony Barras, ex-West Brom defender Matt Carbon and Spanish left-back Zigor Aranalde. Commanding the midfield were Darren Wrack, who scored 46 goals in nearly 350 games for the Saddlers, skilful former Tottenham midfielder Vinny Samways, plus ball-winning midfielder and ex-Wolves player Carl Robinson. On the wing for the Saddlers was Jamaican international and former Bradford man Jamie Lawrence. And leading the front line for Walsall were Brazilian striker Junior and Portuguese attacker Jorge Leitao. 

Grimsby started the brighter, and although both sides had attempts on goal, it was Danny Coyne between the sticks for the Mariners who was forced into three early saves. The best chance of the opening 20 minutes fell to Town striker Steve Livingstone, who should have put the hosts in front as his free header from a corner was cleared off the line by a Saddlers defender. 

Coyne was in great form on the day, making a few vital saves that would keep a valiant Grimsby side in the game. Saddlers’ striker Junior tested The Mariners’ keeper on more than one occasion, and his attacking partner Leitao drove a shot towards the bottom corner, but Coyne tipped the ball around the post. 

Eventually the deadlock was broken and it was Walsall who opened the scoring. The strike partnership of Leitao and Junior, two players feared by Division One defences, would pick open Grimsby’s back four. After Leitao’s shot was parried by Coyne, Junior, nicknamed “Diabo Loiro” (The Blonde Devil) in Brazil, pounced on the rebound to give the Saddlers the lead. 

Grimsby created very little as Walsall saw the game out, while also forcing the Grimsby goalkeeper into a couple more fine saves. A defeat for the Mariners confirmed their relegation to Division Two after fellow survival battlers Stoke picked up an important win over Coventry. A fifth away victory for Walsall allowed them to go on and secure a solid 17th place in the division.

Other fixtures on this day:
2015 - Swindon 3-3 Walsall
2014 - Walsall 1-1 Gillingham
2012 - Exeter 4-2 Walsall
2007 - Walsall 0-1 Bury
2001 - Reading 2-2 Walsall
1998 - Wigan 2-0 Walsall
1992 - Walsall 0-0 Carlisle

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