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Memory Match: Blackpool 3-0 Walsall, 1991

Phil Horner celebrates giving Blackpool the lead
Phil Horner celebrates giving Blackpool the lead

Matt Scrafton trawls through the archives to look back at Blackpool's 3-0 win against Walsall on the opening day of the 1991/92 season on August 17, 1991.

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Blackpool opened the 1991/92 season with a dazzling opening day victory against Walsall - exacting revenge for the previous campaign’s damaging defeat.

But the most encouraging aspect of the win is that the Seasiders can play even better.

Promotion favourites Pool made a dream beginning to the new Fourth Division campaign without ever reaching the dizziest heights of the previous season’s super form.

Make no mistake, they did well – the scoreline tells its own story.

But Billy Ayre’s men are clearly capable of even better than they produced against a Walsall side who were a distinct second best all afternoon.

So heaven help the visitors to come this term when Blackpool really do find top gear.

The Seasiders extended their record run of home league victories to 14 matches as they exacted revenge at the double against a Walsall side who proved a real bogey last term.

Not only did a 2-0 defeat at Walsall on the last day of last season deny Pool outright promotion.

But the Saddlers were the last team to win a league match at Bloomfield Road - way back on November of the previous year.

All that is forgotten now - and the Seasiders have achieved the ideal start as they bid to go one better this time around after missing out on promotion by a whisker last May.

Billy Ayre sprung something of a surprise before the match by giving 18-year-old Paul Stoneman a league debut and opting to play Phil Horner in midfield.

That meant a deliberate change from the formation used in the play-off final against Torquay at Wembley and a return to attack for Andy Garner.

And all credit to Stoneman for a mature performance which belied his tender years.

He came in as a direct replacement for Gary Briggs and produced a solid show of which the former Oxford veteran would have been proud.

It didn’t take long for Pool to make their mark - and their first goal of the season came from Horner, recently recovered from a hamstring injury.

On nine minutes, David Eyres appeared to be attempting a shot on goal which ended up looking more like a cross. Whatever his intention, it left the Walsall defence all at sea.

The ball hit former Liverpool midfielder Kevin McDonald, fell to Horner eight yards out and the Pool man made no mistake.

Ten minutes later, Pool suffered a blow with the loss of Mike Davies with a dead leg.

But Tony Rodwell dropped to right back and turned in an excellent show as Walsall struggled all afternoon to make their presence felt.

The visitors’ best chance of the whole game came on 24 minutes when former England left-back Derek Statham forced a great save from Steve McIlhargey with a 20-yard drive.

But 14 minutes later, Statham – only signed two days earlier - became an opening say statistic as he was sent off for a professional foul on Andy Garner.

Statham gave the ball away to Paul Groves just inside his own half and tried to make amends with a desperate trip on Garner on the edge of the box.

Referee Robbie Hart had no choice but to give him his marching orders.

Pool’s Ian Gore had earlier been booked for a trip on Robbie Jackson a similar distance from goal.

But a vital difference between the two tackles was the intention. Gore had made a genuine attempt to win the ball and Statham hadn’t.

Besides that, Garner was genuinely clear on goal with only the keeper to bear, while there were a couple of defenders between Jackson and the target.

After Statham’s dismissal, Pool were always aware of the danger of ten men raising their game and making the Seasiders’ task a tougher one. But that was never allowed to happen.

Pool added to their lead on the hour and never looked back.

Walsall didn’t have a single attempt on goal in the second half while the Seasiders went from strength to strength – without ever stepping up into top gear.

Their second goal appeared to justify Pool’s decision to release keeper Mark Gayle last year.

Gayle, now Walsall’s number one, made a real has of a cross from the right by Andy Gouck and Eyres nipped in to head the ball into an empty net.

Andy Garner got on to the mark on 76 minutes and his cracker of a goal was worth the admission money alone – even at the increased rate.

Garner had a quiet by his own high standards - but what a goal.

He worked his way into a shooting position 25 yards out and unleashed a blistering left-foot drive which gave Gayle no chance.

With Carl Richards on for thigh strain victim Horner, it could have been 4-0 five minutes from time.

Richards passed to skipper Groves, who made a surging run to get into a shooting position but he didn’t make proper contact and the ball ended up feebly wide of Gayle’s left-hand post.

Blackpool: McIlhargey, Davies (Gouck), Wright, Groves, Stoneman, Gore, Rodwell, Horner (Richards), Bamber, Garner, Eyres

Attendance: 4,141