Manager rues first own goal

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The Independent Football

The Gillingham player-manager, Andy Hessenthaler, described his own goal which handed Walsall all three points at the Bescott Stadium as a "kick in the teeth" for his side.

The visitors had trailed to a superb 35th-minute strike from Pedro Matias, but levelled three minutes after Hessenthaler replaced Danny Spiller at half-time when Wayne Brown netted from the spot after Vinny Samways was adjudged to have handled David Perpetuini's cross.

However, with six minutes to go, the player-manager tried to clear a volley from the Walsall defender Chris Baird only to slice the ball past his own goalkeeper.

Hessenthaler, who said it was the first own goal of his career, explained: "I had just come out from the post to clear our lines and went to clear the ball. But it came off the outside of my foot and went in. It's a kick in the teeth when these things happen.

"Our second-half performance had been a lot better than the first half, when we might as well not have come out. In the first half, Walsall won everything all over the pitch and we didn't get a kick."

His team had improved when Hessenthaler sent himself on as a second-half substitute, but Walsall deserved their second home win in three days. A happy Walsall manager, Colin Lee, claimed he would give the winning goal to his 21-year-old defender Baird, who was making his second appearance on loan from Southampton.

Also impressing on his second appearance on loan from Portsmouth was the midfielder Gary O'Neil. Lee said: "I am very grateful to their managers for allowing me to have them for a month. They are two Premiership stars of the future, I have no doubt about that.

"I felt we played very well in the first half. Heads can go down after a penalty decision, but to be fair the lads kept going. I thought Paul Merson was terrific. He has the brain and ability to help others."

* The Crewe manager, Dario Gradi, yesterday emphasised that his recent surgery on a heart condition was not down to the stresses of being a manager. Gradi, who had a heart valve replaced in a planned operation last week, said: "In no way is this condition connected to stress. The surgeons have told me I will have even more energy than before."