Steve Perryman is our longest serving manager since Taylor, he's the only one not to have been sacked, the only one to leave the club in a better state than when he took over. Moreover in his first season we avoided relegation against all the odds and in his subsequent seasons never had a sniff of a relegation dogfight. He also gave us our only real cup shock in that period, with that win against Leeds. So why is it that I'm having to make an effort to be positive about him? Why is it that the only image of him I can call to mind is an anonymous, ineffectual figure, much like Harrison and Lee? Why wasn't anyone sorry when he left?
But first things first. When Perryman took over we had a 7 game unbeaten run (consisting mostly of draws). This didn't disguise the fact that we were in serious trouble, however, and a long period without a win followed. The turning point was an away game at Middlesborough - although they were top we needed a win as time was running out and we were well adrift. Parallels could be drawn with Peterboro in '94 (head hung low, I have to admit that I was at neither match), and we won 2-1 with a goal officially timed at 89 minutes 59 seconds. We then won 7 out of our next 11 and avoided relegation with a game to spare. This was Perryman's finest hour, and let's face it, possibly the highlight of the post-Taylor era. It was bloody agony at the time mind, especially as the other clubs around us were usually the better teams of the division (WBA, Swindon, Blackburn, Leicester). A measure of the form we showed was that West Brom finished the season with 10 games unbeaten and still went down. Even Steve Butler looked all right (I remember seeing him set up all three of Wilko's hat-trick against Wolves and thinking he'd be a good player for us. How wrong can you be?).
The next season was never going to be easy. Wilko, who I always felt was under-appreciated (19 goals in the relegation season) left, and we didn't really have a striker. Steve Butler was poor, and things didn't go great. Fortunately by this time David James was doing great things, and we weren't letting in too many. Luther came back, and Nigel Callaghan, and it had to be said that they showed up the rest of the team - and showed how far we'd fallen. Then in December Perryman signed Lee Nogan from Oxford. Despite his poor strike rate at Oxford, Perryman felt he'd got a good buy, and expectations were high. I won't dwell too much on Nogan, as you could write a few dozen articles just on him, but suffice it to say that the goals didn't flow.
Still despite everything the season finished well, we beat all the top sides in a great end of season run which saw us finish 10th, a position that severely flattered us.
Hopes were a bit higher for the following season, especially when we got the striker we so badly needed - a lot of credit must go to Perryman for taking a gamble on Furlong, who hadn't done great at Coventry, and cost nearly half a million. However James's transfer to Liverpool showed how much our defence had come to depend him. Nutter though he was, he wasn't afraid to risk coming out for a cross to take the heat off the defence, even if he did make an idiot of himself from time to time. Anyway as the season progressed we let in more and more, and the replacement keeper - Suckling - didn't really do the job.
New signings didn't really help either, in particular Charlery and (oh God no!) Willis. Players like Putney and Ashby, as well as Soloman, gradually gave our team more of a mediocre look to it, while Bazeley languished on the bench and Rod Thomas, long forgotten, in the reserves. Nogan by this stage was in midfield or on the bench, and unhappy (surprise!). Thanks largely to Furlong we were scoring loads, though, so relegation was never an issue. The season really petered out into nothing, unlike the two previous seasons we finished appallingly, around 17th. Football supporters often say this when things go wrong, but we really did play like we didn't care (an honourable exception to this is Hessenthaler). Even the season's one highlight, the Coca-Cola Cup win over Leeds was put into perspective by Leeds subsequent self-destruction, and the 6-1 defeat at Ewood Park in the next round.
Unjust as it was, I couldn't help wishing we'd sack Perryman to get Luther in as manager. The risk of relegation seemed a small price to pay to avoid the fact that we'd become a really dull team - not so much in the way we played football, as in a total lack of charisma. No young hopefuls, no seasoned pros, no chance of going up, or down, out the Cup at the 3rd round every year. I'm sure we wouldn't have sacked him, but I couldn't help feeling that the fuss Petchey made over Tottenham's `poaching' him was a little forced. I think the Tottenham job was the one he was always after anyway, we were only a stepping stone. Pity he only kept it for one game! We poached Roeder off Gillingham, and there's no doubt who came off best.
I feel I should end on a high note, remembering his achievements and being grateful to him that when Roeder came at least there were some pieces left to pick up, and we were still in the first division. And after all, we did get most of the money back for Nogan. Somehow I can't though. The legacy of the Perryman era may have been survival, but it was at the cost of boredom. And it is a measure of how poor the team he left behind was that Roeder had to dismantle it almost entirely, I think Hessenthaler is the only Perryman signing left.
Best buys: Furlong, Hessenthaler
Worst buys: Nogan, Willis
Best moments: The Coca-Cola Cup win against Leeds, 2-1
91 run-in: Middlesboro away, Portsmouth away, Oxford away
92 run-in: Middlesboro again, Ipswich away, Blackburn at home
Worst moments: 93 run-in. Portsmouth away sticks out, inevitably, as being particularly dire. Cup games against Wolves and Shrewsbury. The 2-0 defeat at Luton in the 92/93 season.