In another look through the archives from 25 years ago, here's the Nottingham Evening Post's take on our win at Wembley.
(With thanks to the Nottingham Evening Post and Up The Maggies)
Nottingham Evening Post Reports
FIRST CLASS NOTTS - TOMMY TIMES IT - COUNTY'S FINEST HOUR
Jubilant Notts County's return to the First Division at Wembley yesterday etched their name in history as the only side to have triumphed in two promotion play-off finals. And the rousing victory over Brighton bore a distinct similarity to last year's success against Tranmere Rovers -the first appearance under the twin towers by the world's oldest club. In both games, hugely industrious Notts had to survive pressure before indisputably proving them- selves the better team. The virtual 60,000 in yesterday's crowd, creating a truly vibrant Wembley atmosphere, watched top scorer Tommy Johnson collect two goals that could scarcely have been better timed.
Johnson's first, on the half-hour, was against the run of play, Brighton having begun with some panache. When the gifted, young striker added to the lead with a typical left foot cross-drive in 59 minutes, it followed two alarms for Notts in which Clive Walker and Dean Wilkins had rapped their woodwork. But the longer the match went on, the tighter became the County command. Though substitute John Byrne wasted a clear chance of reducing Brighton's deficit in 68 minutes. it was no surprise when former non-League striker David Regis effectively sealed promotion for Notts three minutes later . It would have been no more than the Magpies deserved had they maintained a clean sheet, but opposing skipper Wilkins came up with a consolation effort in injury time. County's arguably finest hour in all their 129 years was once again a triumph for teaJohnson's waspish ability was always the main threat to the Brighton defence, though skipper Phil Turner and Regis gave him plenty of diligent support. In County's own back line, left back Alan Paris never put a foot wrong from start to finish, while full back partner Charlie Palmer won the battle with Walker after the veteran left winger had proved an early handful. In the middle of defence, Dean Yates justified his selection after missing four vital matches through suspension; arid Craig Short played his part in the curbing of Mike Small, who had hinted why he is recognised as one of the best Second Division strikers.
Short nearly missed the game after tweaking his groin in a Thursday training session, and he plainly felt the injury after a crunching tackle on Small in the first 15 minutes. But the clearest indication of Notts' defensive command was that goalkeeper Steve Cherry had only one difficult save to make in the entire match. He saved with his legs at the near post from a deliberate tenth minute shot by Walker. At that stage Brighton, with their more studied approach, looked as though they might make a lie of the Second Division table in which Notts finished ten points ahead of them. But the Magpies subsequently gave their opponents less space in which to play in midfield, where Dean Thomas - another controversial choice ahead of Paul Harding- had a useful match and evergreen Don O'Riordan was efficient in his holding role in front of the back four.
However, young Mark Draper -in his first Wembley appearance - only gave occasional glimpses of the prodigious skill he has at his disposal and the midfield was functional rather than fluent. When Johnson put Notts in front, it stemmed from the kind of set-piece play between Turner and Thomas, which had become increasingly effective in the season's run-in. Turner's short corner on the left was returned by Thomas; and when the captain arrowed in his cross, Johnson made the most of slapdash marking by glancing a six yards header low into the 'keeper's left hand corner. The 'wheelbarrow song' - born at Wembley a year earlier - was rampant, yet it almost died in the throats one minute from the interval when Walker put a tumbling header against the outside of the post from Chivers' right wing cross. Then in 48 minutes Wilkins curled an artful free-kick onto the top of the bar and over.
Five minutes later, a splendidly incisive pass by Thomas sent Johnson scurrying clear through the middle with a fine chance of adding the Magpies' second. But as goalkeeper Perry Digweed came out to meet him, the youngster screwed his left-footer wide of the far post. No matter. In 59 minutes, Johnson collected his 2lst goal of the season (beating his 20 last term). Regis laid on the pass and Johnson's firm drive went across Digweed, finishing in the bottom far corner.
Brighton's response was a double substitution, with left back Steve Gatting and sweeper Stefan Iovan giving way to Ian Chapman and Byrne who, from Walker's neat pass, had a good scoring chance within six minutes of his arrival. However, in a central situation and unpressured, his drive from the edge of the box was well wide. Notts punished the misdemeanour with their third goal in 71 minutes. Turner was upended on the right and, from Draper's free-kick to the far post, Regis chested the ball over the line before Digweed could retrieve it. It was a marvellously satisfying moment for Regis, a non-League player until last September, whose home is only two miles from the stadium.
"There's only one Neil Warnock!" chanted the Nottingham hordes - around 23,000 travelled from the city and county -and the hope was profound that the manager will resist Chelsea's efforts to lure him away.
Johnson might have snatched an historic hat-trick in 80 minutes, but Digweed read his firm shot aimed at the near corner. With the game well into injury time, Brighton got the goal they only sporadically suggested. Byrne did well on the left, Mark Barham dummied over the ball and Wilkins drilled low into Cherry's left hand corner. There was still time for Thomas and Chivers to incur the game's only bookings after an angry exchange by the touchline which seemed largely down to the Brighton man's frustration.
Despite the terrifyingly high stakes, the match had been played out in a good spirit; and in keeping with the mood, Brighton's fans were not slow in showing their appreciation of the winners. Next season, Notts will be hoping to draw a similar response from the Liverpool Kop - something that was inconceivable when the old club was fighting to stay out of Division Four little more than two years ago.
TRAUMATIC FOR TOMMY
TWO-GOAL Notts County hero Tommy Johnson was physically sick several times during the game. The England under-21 striker said: “I have had a few stamina problems in the past and I got dehydrated, but after a bit of a rest I was as right as rain. The bench tried to wind me up as the match was entering injury time by indicating that Kevin Bartlett was coming on to replace me - but I was wise to their actions. In spite of my problems I intended completing the game, if I could help it.” The 20-year-old Johnson hared for a corner of the stadium after the final whistle to Joyfully hug his mother, father and six-year-old brother, who had travelled down from Tyneside. Said Johnson: "It was a marvellous feeling to score in last season's play-off final against Tranmere - but to get two goals at Wembley this time was beyond my Wildest dreams. The first was a fine ball in from Phil Turner and I had to thank Dave Regis for the pass that led to my second. But I'm still a little disappointed that I didn't put away my chance early in the second half, though I abide by the principle that you miss some and you score some. I was overjoyed to beat my 20 goals last season and it's a great honour to finish as club top scorer again." Johnson went on: "I'm really looking forward to the First Division - but it will be sweeter there if the gaffer stays, I played a few games under John Barnwell and John Newman, but it was under the gaffer that I became a regular. There's a good set of lads and backroom staff at Notts and a new manager might break us up. That would be very sad, although nobody I knows better than myself that it's the gaffer's decision.”
CHERRY RIPE FOR THE GLORY
STEVE CHERRY has got the taste for Wembley and he's vowed to be back next season - in the FA Cup Final. Cherry, a winner with Notts at the 'home of legends' twice in two years, knows that he won't have the play-offs to bank on next season. But the memory of a conversation with team mate Craig Short has helped set his sights higher. Said Cherry: "I remember, at the end of the play-offs when we got promotion to Division Two, Craig and me took a walk down the tunnel and back onto the pitch after everyone had gone. We just stood there for a while looking round at the stadium and Craig said, 'This could be the last time we'll ever see this place as players.' I never for one moment thought I'd come back. Some players never even get there once. Now I've been twice in two years and I'm getting used to it. So much so that I'll be busting a gut to go back next season to play in the FA Cup Final or the Simod Cup or something."
Phil Turner (lifting the "scroll" trophy), Dean Yates, Tommy Johnson,
Paul Harding and Kevin Bartlett celebrate at the front of the
Royal box (which famously took 39 steps to reach).
Notts then Chairman Derek Pavis can be seen far right, stood behind and applauding.
WE’LL SILENCE THE CRITICS
JOYOUS skipper Phil Turner can't wait for the new season to start and another chance to silence the Notts County critics. Turner, clutching the match ball he was presented with as the captain of the winning side, knows the doubters will be out in force when Notts step on to the Division One stage. But he warned: "We proved people wrong this season and we'll continue to do it. No one will give us a cat in hell's chance - but we'll show them. That will be the perfect stage for us. We always rise to the occasion and next year will be no different. We're looking forward to taking on Liverpool and Manchester United. But if you had told me at the start of the season we would be playing the Division One champions, I wouldn't have believed you. It was a magnificent day and, from a personal point of view, it's been a long time coming since my time in the Fourth Division with Lincoln City. But ever since I've been involved with Notts, we've had nothing but success - and we deserve it." He added: "We didn't play as well as we would have liked and Brighton changed their system to play a sweeper, which made things even more difficult for us. In the first half, I can't remember us creating one chance. Then one of our set-pieces came off and Tommy got a lovely header to give us the lead. It's going to be a tremendous summer, thinking about Anfield and Old Trafford. I can't wait for next season to start."
CRAIG SHORT'S injury scare was County's best-kept secret. The influential central defender was uncertain whether he would be able to play his part in helping Notts back to Division One until hours before kick-off. Short collected a groin strain in training last Thursday as Notts were preparing at The Belfry Golf Club, Sutton Coldfield. He said: "On Saturday night I really didn't know whether I was going to make it. David Wilson, the physio, assured me that I would be all right but I felt a twinge very early on in the first half. Fortunately I had Dean Yates behind me and, when the second goal went in, the pain disappeared completely."
There was no hint of any discomfort from the injury as Short re-lived the moments that took Notts back to Division One after a seven-year absence. He said: “Brighton shaded the first half but we ripped them apart after the break. Every team needs a goalscorer and we've got one in Tommy Johnson. He's been criticised for being too young, too inexperienced and too lightweight. But he's a natural finisher and he proved that once again when it really mattered. I think it would still have been a good day if we had been beaten. We would have still been in Division Two, which is a very good league, so winning makes it even more special.”
DEAN YATES spared a thought for his forgotten deputy. After the relief of his return from a four-match ban and the euphoria of reaching English football's biggest stage, Yates stopped to pay tribute to Chris Short: "I felt really sorry for Chris because he had done so well while I was out. It must have been a tough decision for him to accept and I wouldn't have blamed him for being bitter towards me for getting straight back in. But, typical of Chris, he came up, shook my hand, wished me all the best and accepted the decision like a true professional. It's a shame anyone had to miss out but I'm sure Chris's time will come." Yates, so often the defensive rock of Notts' success, said of his recall: "The manager took me to one side on Saturday and told me I was in the team, which was such a relief. I had been worrying about it for a few days and I couldn't have really complained if I'd been left out. I was just so relieved to be back. And then to be part of such a great day was fantastic. For a few moments when we were 3-0 up, I stopped to think about where we would be going next season… Places like Anfield and Old Trafford. And now I just can't find words to explain how I feel. The supporters were brilliant and it's just nice that we can pay them back. Hopefully, they'll turn out like that next season and I think we can hold our own in Division One. At Wembley, we showed we can over-power teams and do the business. I can't see any reason why we shouldn't do that next season.”
NOTTS COUNTY manager Neil Warnock cited national newspaper criticism as an added incentive to winning promotion. He said: “People wrote us off last September and October when we had a dicky run, In fact, I saw us labelled relegation material, We kept the cuttings pinned on the dressing room notice board, It's nice that we should have answered them in the most effective way. As it happens, we haven't burst many footballs this season. We do play a bit at times, though our guts, determination and team spirit got us through against Brighton. I'd never seen them work as hard as they did in the first half. They played very well and we had to hang on. In the second half there was only one side in it and that was particularly pleasing after finishing the season ten points ahead of Brighton. But the Football League insist on these play-offs and at least we have been to Wembley twice. I just wished we were on bonuses for such games."
Warnock felt that two-goal Tommy Johnson missed "the easiest" of his three chances. “But then Tommy is an enigma, though the way I want him to play football suits him down to the ground. Because he doesn't always use his brains, he gets away with murder, yet he's a smashing lad and a good finisher. My toughest decision was leaving out Chris Short and Paul Harding in favour of Dean Yates and Dean Thomas. Chris has been playing out of his skin and nobody can dispute Paul's contribution.”
THE PRIZE IS RIGHT
CHAIRMAN Derek Pavis's First Division objective was realised four years to the day since he took over Notts County. It came 12 months ahead of schedule. Said an ecstatic Mr Pavis: “I could not think of a better way to mark an anniversary. It was the most fantastic day for supporters, players, the board and everybody connected with the football club. The rapport the board has with the management was significant, but what a reward to see all those smiling faces. It wasn't cheap for the fans to travel to Wembley - and a big thank-you to Notts and Forest supporters, alike. I spoke to many Forest supporters around the ground before the game and spotted some who pinned black and white rosettes alongside their own red and white. My hope is that the 24,000 who travelled down from Nottingham to watch us will try and get into Meadow Lane next season. That would reduce the financial problems we have had.” Mr Pavis went on: “If the gates increase the way they should do this club can make a lot of headway, because the team doesn't know how good they are. Europe is my goal and in the meantime, a domestic cup or two - we can all have our pipedreams.”
The chairman voiced the hope that in addition to manager Neil Warnock, central defender Dean Yates would commit himself further to the club. “It's up to Dean now to say whether he wants to stay. If he does so I will be in a position to offer him a testimonial game at Meadow Lane in the not too distant future.”
WE WERE FRESH FOR THE ACTION
COUNTY learned a lot from the FA Cup Final defeat suffered by neighbours Nottingham Forest. That was the firm view of assistant manager Mick Jones, who has made such a success of the No 2 job to Neil Warnock. He said: “The Forest lads, when we saw them against Spurs, were a bit heavy legged and tired on the day. We were determined to make sure we were fresh and the preparations were spot on.” But he admitted he was so worried about the first 15 minutes that he considered leaving his seat in the stand for a place nearer the action. “I thought about putting my penny-worth in, but we began to settle down and my fears vanished.” Jones is certain that goal hero Tommy Johnson - 41 in the last two seasons - will continue to score in the First Division. “Tommy is a good listener and a good learner,” he said. “That being the case, he will keep on finding the back of the net.”
OUR ‘CRIME’ - LLOYD
“WE never picked up at set pieces, and that's a crime. In the end it cost us the game,” said Brighton manager Barry Lloyd. “We were never alive enough at free kicks and corners and Notts cashed in. Having said that, I thought the score flattered them a little bit because we didn't deserve to be beaten 3-1. In the first half we were the better side and they scored against the run of play. But even 1-0 down at half-time, I thought we could get back into the game. Then the second goal killed us off. I'm just a bit disappointed because we let ourselves down in crucial areas.”
Seagulls full-back Steve Gatting added: “Notts took their goals well and we couldn't argue with that, but I don't think they were three goals better than us. I'm bitterly disappointed because we really thought we had got a good chance of getting into Division One.”
Skipper Dean Wilkins said: “I felt we played the better football in the first half until they scored from the set piece. And when the second went in our whole day fell apart.”