From the moment they first met across a crowded Division Three (South) table, Bristol City and Walsall have barely been apart in the last 79 years.Sunday afternoon’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final between Bristol City and Walsall will be the 67th time the pair have locked horns in major competition, and the second time in a domestic final after their 1988 Division Three Play-Off final encounter.
Since the duo first met in October 1936 matches between the sides have been frequent, with the one significant exception a period between the mid-sixties and early eighties, when they went 17 years without meeting.
Bristol City hold the upper hand in total encounters, having triumphed 30 times to Walsall’s 21, with the remaining 15 matches ending all-square.
With both sides having won four matches apiece in cup clashes – which, for the purposes of clarification, includes the Play-Offs – there is going to be one team edging ahead in that department when the final whistle blows on Sunday. There has only been a solitary draw from their nine cup games, which will perhaps come as little surprise when you start to analyse the margins of victory in some matches.
As early as their fifth meeting in Division Three (South), back in 1938, the goals were flowing in favour of Bristol City. The Robins dispatched the Saddlers 8-2 on the road that season, in the biggest ever scoreline between the two teams, just over a year after they had won 5-1 on their first visit to Walsall.
With the pair meeting regularly at the time, the Saddlers didn’t have to wait too long for their chance for revenge. Fourteen months later they met again in the Midlands and Walsall recorded a 5-0 victory over their visitors, their first success in seven attempts.
It’s a tally they’ve never repeated since that day in April 1939, but they have put four past their opponents from the south west four times since. In comparison, excluding those two aforementioned comfortable wins, Bristol City have hit the Saddlers for four or more goals on eight occasions since, including two consecutive 5-1 wins at home in the third tier, back in February and August of 1964. That was 11 years after they had handed out a 6-1 spanking, in Division Three (South), also on their own turf.
Bristol City’s form in front of the Walsall goal has been consistent over the decades. A 4-1 triumph in September 1996 took them past a century of goals in matches between the teams, a milestone that Walsall remain 10 goals shy of prior to Sunday's kick-off.
With seven clashes having finished goalless - including their first ever meeting - distorting the figures slightly, the Robins average 1.73 goals a game, and Walsall 1.36. Rounding those numbers as appropriate, history would point to a 2-1 Bristol City win, which coincidentally was the scoreline in the one and only previous occasion that these two teams have met in the Football League Trophy.
The win saw the Robins top their group ahead of the Saddlers, and they went on to progress past Northampton Town, Gillingham and Hereford United (over two legs) in the knock-out stages to win the Southern section and reach Wembley.
Bristol City fans won’t need any reminding what happened next – a 3-0 win over Bolton Wanderers saw the trophy make the journey to Ashton Gate for the first time.
With Steve Cotterill’s side now aiming to become the first team to win it three times, and Walsall targeting a maiden triumph, the only numbers that will influence whether it takes the same trip west this weekend, or heads north up the motorway, will be the ones on the players’ shirts.