From the Evening Argus after Peter Ward’s explosive start of six goals in eight matches at the end of the 1975/76 season:
The exciting potential of 20-year-old Peter Ward, whose last-minute goal deprived Sheffield Wednesday of a first away win since December 28, 1974, prompted Albion manager Peter Taylor to declare: “He is the hottest proper in English football. I would not dream of listening to any offer for him. He’s that good he would get into Derby’s side tomorrow.”
Knowing as we do Taylor’s close affinity with Derby County, presumably there can be no higher praise… but it is a massive tribute for one so young to have heaped upon his head.
I seriously doubt whether such fulsome billing is good for young players. Of course, Ward is a very promising player. Why, then, did he not make a League debut earlier than eight games ago? In that time he has scored six goals, and opportunism of the sort displayed in the last month was missing in an attack that had gone off the boil.
Naturally, Taylor is keen to enthuse about something after Albion’s failure to win promotion, and Ward is an obvious choice. He seems too level a lad to be affected by the cliches.
Right now Ward has only one thing on his mind, and that has nothing to do with football. He and his wife Sue expect the arrival of their first child on Cup Final day.
Some players have been known to be affected by offspring on the way. But not Ward whose rattlesnake speed of strike is an asset on which Albion must build next season.
Incredible, isn’t it, that he has been an active participant in League football just one crowded, hectic month?
In that time he has shown touches to send the pulses of most managers racing. His goal against relegation-threatened Wednesday came at a time when Albion looked booked for a first home defeat since September 10. Nobody would have been surprised had Wednesday broken their duck.
Now the 1-1 draw means Wednesday must beat Southend at Hillsborough in the final match this week or crash into the Fourth Division for the first time. The anxiety until then can all be put down to Ward.
Remarkably little is known about him because there is a basic shyness and modesty in his make-up. Interviews are foreign to him. This is as it should be – all the best players play with feet and head, not tongues.
On the pitch, however, he has the right stamp of arrogance and determination, and an ability to turn defenders very quickly. His shot is spectacular because he doesn’t wait to tee the ball up.
Lichfield-born, he played for a local side but was never associated with Derby County. He went straight from playing with his mates to Burton Albion, the Southern League club, and last season scored lots of goals, He cannot remember how many.
Word soon reached Taylor, a former Burton manager, about Ward. He was in with a cheque before any rivals, and £4,000 brought Ward to the Goldstone last summer.
He was duly dispatched to learn his trade in the reserves.
Tuesday night regulars at the Goldstone soon noted his prowess. When Ward debuted at Hereford, it was not before time. His name went on the scoresheet in just 50 seconds. He had arrived.
The next match was at Rotherham and he gave Albion an early lead there. At Chesterfield it was a foul on Ward that led to a Joe Kinnear penalty. By this time the lad was starting to feed off Sammy Morgan. They were looking a good pair together. But at Chesterfield, Morgan was injured.
In the Port Vale game Ward’s name appeared in the score frame. Nothing doing at Millwall, but he nearly broke the net with his equaliser at Aldershot. A lot of running and effort finally paid off against Gillingham with a flashing header.
And so to the final game when his flair meant Albion finishing with 39 points from their home matches. Dropping only seven was a remarkable feat, and should have taken them into the Second Division. The millstone that kept Albion down was the dreadful away record.
The Ward goal apart, and yet another strong display by Brian Horton, and solid performances we have come to expect from Andy Rollings and Steve Piper, the less said about Albion’s performance, the better.
Admitted Taylor: “We didn’t really perform at all. They didn’t allow us to play and must deserve credit for that. Len Ashurst got his lads to do everything right, considering their position.”
Apart from Ward’s equaliser, the most appreciated touch came before the ball was kicked. Skipper Horton led the players round the ground and they applauded the crowd for their support. The spectators acknowledged the gesture warmly and two minutes later stifled groans as Eric Potts scored the softest goal at the Goldstone for many a long year.
While the 11,859 crowd was the lowest since September 27, it was by far an ways the best in the division. Hereford, who have run away with the championship, had only 8,950 as the trophy was handed over.
Two minutes: There seemed to be no danger when POTTS swerved away from Horton’s biting tackle. A low shot from just outside the box looked covered by Grummitt, but he could only get a hand to it, and the ball trickled over the line. 0-1.
Eighty-nine minutes: A long ball from the back was nodded down by Mellor, and WARD slammed it on the volley. 1-1.