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Stalemate as Walsall are forced to share the spoils; Walsall 1 Man City 1.

WALSALL boss Ray Graydon can see a day when his shoestring Saddlers will top the Second Division.

Sadly for Walsall, that day was not yesterday as Graydon's men, needing victory to dislodge Fulham from pole position, were held to a draw by big-timers Manchester City.

Andy Watson's second half goal gave Walsall the chance to collect all three points, but their lead lasted just seven minutes as City skipper Jamie Pollock grabbed an equaliser and a share of the honours.

But Graydon put the result into perspective after the game and he remains optimistic about the future as Walsall continued to defy the odds.

"I have spent pounds 35,000 on players this season and raised pounds 300,000 from sales," he said.

"Their centre back cost pounds 1.2 million.

"So I look at this result and think we must be doing something right here.

"When you compare the size of their squad compared to ours, City's is about double so I am very pleased with what I saw out there from us."

On the face of it, Walsall have no right to be up there challenging for promotion.

Graydon's resources suggest he should be more concerned with the other end of the division, but the Walsall manager is paying no attention to the script in front of him.

City are a Premiership outfit in all but status, even their bench had so many people on it they resembled an American Football team.

But Walsall are in there mixing it with the so-called best and remain ten points clear of the Maine Road side.

In comparison, Walsall only had one other senior player to call upon after Graydon had picked his team and named three substitutes.

And Walsall had enough chances to have won a full blooded clash that attracted a record crowd for the Bescot Stadium of 9,517.

"I think I need a holiday in the Bahamas at the moment," joked Graydon, who even took time out to invite sacked Port Vale manager John Rudge to the game.

"He had a torrid time this week," said Graydon.

"I worked with him last season and thought he needed a mate to invite him to a match."

As it turned out, the result gave giant killers Fulham yet another reason to celebrate.

Not only had they pulled off a major shock at Villa, but they also stayed top of the pile.

This may have been the day when the rest of the country had cup fever, but try telling that to a capacity Bescot crowd.

There was enough tension and pride on show in this absorbing game to have graced any cup tie.

Walsall missed the strike power of suspended forward Andy Rammell as both sides struggled for supremacy in a first half that was as tight as a drum.

It was 17 minutes before either goalkeeper was troubled, City winger Terry Cooke forcing James Walker to punch clear.

Then Gareth Taylor shot into the side netting and was later to waste a free header as City provided the early threat.

The recalled Clive Platt headed just wide of the far post after good work by Watson and the busy Dean Keates. But defences were largely on top before the break although Keates went close from 20 yards just on half time.

Two minutes into the second half, an overhead kick from Keates was just wide of the mark and then Wrack raced clear to shoot just over.

A show of honesty from Saddlers defender Adrian Viveash allowed City's Shaun Goater to escape a booking for a high challenge. The Walsall player was caught in the face, but said it was an accident.

Walsall gradually got the upper hand and a superb pass by Wrack found Brissett and he used his pace to test City keeper Nick Weaver who saved at the near post.

But Walsall scrambled into the lead in the 67th minute when a Keates cross found Wrack who fed Platt, and although he missed his shot the ball was helped on by Brissett to Watson who netted from close range.

City's reply was clinical and Richard Edghill fired a shot against the bar from 25 yards a minute later.

A City equaliser looked on the cards and it came with 16 minutes to go. Tony Vaughan crashed a shot against the underside of the cross bar and Pollock was on hand to follow up and score.

Either side could have nicked the points after that with Cooke twice testing Walker and Larusson twice firing inches wide from long range in the space of a minute.

SUBSTITUTIONS: Walsall: Thomas (Larusson 87), Ricketts (Platt 87). City: Whitley (Cooke 86).

BOOKINGS: Walsall: Wrack, Pointon. City: Wiekens.

REFEREE: Mr. M E Pierce (Portsmouth)

STAR MAN: Ian Roper
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 24, 1999
Words:797
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