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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 09:14 GMT
Dismay as Saddlers drop
Ray Graydon
Walsall boss Ray Graydon was unable to prevent relegation
Walsall started the season as favourites for the drop, and duly returned to the Second Division - but only on the final day of the season.

Relying again on free transfers and loan deals, Saddlers' manager Ray Graydon assembled a decent squad, but a little too late for survival.

Tom Bennett, Paul Hall and Graham Fenton all played a part after Christmas, but the loss of loan signing Kevin Harper to Portsmouth proved a major blow.

Winger Harper was a key factor in Pompey pulling clear of the relegation zone, at Walsall's expense.

Early on Walsall's only success came against local opposition, Andy Rammell scoring the winners against Wolves, Birmingham and West Brom.

By the end of September they were already in the drop zone, and out of the Worthington Cup at the hands of Sunderland.

Gino Padula
Gino Padula became fans' favourite at Bescot

The arrivals of Spaniard Pedro Matias and Argentinean Gino Padula improved the left-hand side of the team in late autumn - full-back Padula went on to be voted player-of-the-season.

Goals from Andy Rammell and Mark Robins ended a seven- game run without a win against Huddersfield before a bleak December that produced just a single point from four league games and FA Cup elimination at the hands of Gillingham.

The turn of the year yielded successive wins over Bolton, Sheffield United and Crewe, lifting the club out of the bottom three until the middle of March.

Victory at Port Vale opened the door to survival even wider and the Saddlers were locked in a battle with rivals West Brom to avoid the final relegation place.

There task was not helped by the actions of leading goalscorer Michael Ricketts - the young striker announced his intention to leave at the end of the season, much to the frustration of supporters and manager alike.

Walsall even beat the Baggies at Bescot late in April, Andy Rammell and Tom Bennett bringing their side back from a goal behind to win 2-1.

But defeat at Birmingham on Easter Monday sent them spinning into the bottom three once again, and even victory over Portsmouth in the final home game left the Saddlers destiny out of their own hands.

So to the final day, and a 2-0 defeat at Ipswich - 12 months after celebrating stepping up a division, Walsall were on their way back down.

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