This Friday night, we welcome Mat Saddler’s Walsall to Rodney Parade. The club, like ourselves, have been League Two staples in recent years, and we have had plenty of interesting clashes in the last few seasons.
However, for this week’s From the Archive, we have dusted off a classic game - our last-day victory over Walsall at the end of the 1979/80 season that saw us seal promotion to the old Division 3. A game where, fittingly, the hosts were also celebrating their own promotion, which they had sealed a few games earlier.
The 79/80 season was one to remember for County fans, but it was also close to being a hugely missed opportunity. After sitting comfortably in the promotion spots following a run of ten consecutive wins, a draw at Darlington, followed by consecutive away defeats against Bradford and Rochdale, with a win at home to Hartlepool sandwiched in between, left us with a job to do on the last day.
With Bradford and Portsmouth breathing down our neck, we knew nothing less than a win at Walsall’s Fellows Park would be enough to see us move into the third division (now League One). This was at a time when a win was still worth two points, and with Bradford and Portsmouth both having winnable games, the pressure was on.
The hosts had sealed promotions themselves two games earlier, and this was a chance for them to celebrate on home soil. County fans would have to endure a tense 90 minutes before they could join them in celebration. Thankfully, they had their nerves settled relatively early when John Aldrige netted twice in two minutes, putting us 2-0 by the 22nd minute.
Walsall’s player/manager, Alan Buckley pulled one back for the hosts, but a goal from Dave Gwyther sent us into the break 3-1 up.
The Saddlers didn’t want to make it easy for us, though, and Don Penn made it 3-2 midway through the half, dangling potential heartbreak right in front of our eyes. However, that was not to be the case, and Tommy Tynan finally sealed the game, heading home in front of the traveling fans to make it 4-2 and seal an iconic promotion.
Three days later, we defeated Shrewsbury Town 2-1 at Somerton Park in the first leg of the Welsh Cup Final before comfortably defeating Graham Turner’s team 3-0 at the Gay Meadow a week later to secure the trophy and complete one of the most memorable seasons in our history.