TOWN will close their centenary season aiming to equal one of the club’s longest-standing records after Andy Booth inspired an unlikely 3-2 comeback win at Walsall.
Lee Clark’s side were trailing 2-0 with an even more one-sided scoreline looking the most likely outcome when Booth netted twice in three minutes as the half-time tea was being poured.
Walsall went in shell-shocked, Town uplifted, and the second 45 minutes was a completely different story as the visitors clinched all three points thanks to on-loan Liverpool defender Martin Kelly’s beautifully-taken first career goal.
Now Town will head to Leyton Orient on Saturday week aiming to match the feat of the 1924-25 league championship winning team by chalking up five away victories in succession.
Before that, there’s this Saturday’s final home game, when Clark’s side will seek a fifth double against a Brighton side battling to stay in League I.
Walsall, defeated 2-1 at the Galpharm in December, were added to Swindon, Leeds, Hereford and Scunthorpe as the sides Town have twice overcome.
That was the game in which Alex Smithies was handed an unexpected start by caretaker manager Gerry Murphy, and the 19-year-old has hardly looked back since.
The England Under 19 international might have been beaten twice – both times by powerful frontman Jabo Ibehre – but he was one of the few Town players who could claim any credit from a disappointing opening 40 minutes.
He made a great save from Michael Ricketts’ 32nd-minute overhead kick, which would have put Holme Valley-based Chris Hutchings’ men three up, and couldn’t really be blamed for either of the home side’s goals.
The first, in the 14th minute, was fired home by former Orient striker Ibehre with the help of a deflection off the foot of Nathan Clarke, who was trying to block.
And the second, in the 28th, was so well placed by Ibehre, who bought himself space with a lovely back-heeled flick from Troy Deeney’s pass, that few keepers would have been able to save.
In between, Town were indebted to Jim Goodwin, who did well to block French winger Sofiene Zaaboub’s cracking volley on the line.
It was all pretty grim for the 456 Town fans in a 3,951 crowd at the stadium in the shadow of the M6.
But Town’s trips to the Bescot have a habit of producing goals – 17 in four previous matches – and this one was to be no different.
Booth’s 43rd-minute first, and his 147th in Town colours, came out of the blue and almost wasn’t awarded by Rutland referee Trevor Kettle.
It took some furious flag waving by assistant Stuart Burt to signify the striker’s shot from Danny Cadamarteri’s pass had crossed the line after squirming through home keeper Rene Gilmartin’s grasp.
Home fans disputed the legality of the goal, but Burt was perfectly placed to judge, and the Examiner photograph on these pages proves he was correct.
There was no debate over the 45th-minute equaliser.
The Town ace was wearing a shirt without name or number after earlier being forced to change because of the blood rule, but the header from Goodwin’s corner was vintage Booth.
The visiting fans rose in delight and Booth defied those 35-year-old legs to sprint away in celebration.
It was truly game on, and while Walsall had their chances – former England player Ricketts twice tried his luck from free-kicks while Anthony Gerrard’s diving header was blocked by Nathan Clarke – Town looked the stronger side.Related content
Gary Roberts and Robbie Williams both put shots just inches wide before, in the 62nd minute, Kelly took possession from Goodwin’s pass, turned his marker, and dispatched a curling left-foot shot into Gilmartin’s right-hand corner.