Walsall matchwinner Luke Leahy described their last-gasp 2-1 win over hometown rivals Coventry City as the best feeling of his career, having netted two stoppage-time goals on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Walsall defender is a huge Sky Blues fan who started out at the club’s Academy before being released at the age of 12.
Wearing the captain’s armband for the second game running, the Coventry kid revealed the victory was all the sweeter after it ended the Saddlers’ winless run in League One.
“Being a Coventry fan, I’m sure my friends won’t be happy but I had a job to do today,” said the full-back, who developed his career with the Gordon Strachan Football Foundation based at Rugby after being rejected by City.
Leahy became one of the Strachan Foundation’s first players to make it as a professional after he was signed by former Coventry boss Steven Pressley when he was manager at Falkirk, prior to joining the Ricoh Arena.
“I was 11 or 12 at the time and told I wasn’t good enough,” said Leahy, who scored his side’s equaliser on 90+1 minutes and struck home from the penalty spot on 90+4.
“To go the hard route up to Scotland – living there, coming back down – and to do that today, it means everything to me, my friends and family.
“It’s definitely the best feeling of my career.”
Walsall had failed to win since late October and although he admitted the Sky Blues deserved all three points, it didn’t stop them from fighting back in dramatic style.
“I felt we didn’t actually really play well, they deserved the three points,” he said, reflecting on the 2-1 victory.
“They were a lot better on the ball, produced more chances but we dug in until the end.”
The victory saw the Saddlers leapfrog Coventry into tenth place, now just five points off the play-off places heading into a tricky Christmas schedule.
Asked about his match winning penalty after Nicky Devlin was judged to have been fouled by Abu Ogogo with 90+4 minutes on the clock, Leahy knew that crucial moment meant more to him than most.
“I’ve stepped back from penalty training, having missed one against Macclesfield,” he said.
“But after scoring the first and it’s the last minute to win the game, I didn’t care if anyone else wanted it.
“I’m sure that’s the fastest I’ve run but, importantly, I was confident that I would score.”
It was a frenetic finale at the Banks’s Stadium, during which some of his Coventry-supporting friends celebrated his match winner with an unexpected pitch invasion.
“I told them before, don’t run onto the pitch because I know what happened against them last year,” he said.
“One of them didn’t listen and ran on but as soon as I saw him, I knew I had to run to him.
“It was a moment we’ll all cherish for the rest of our lives.”
With an eye on their FA Cup replay against Sunderland to come on Tuesday night, Leahy praised his side’s resilience.
“This result shows the manager and our fans that we never give up,” he said.
“Barnsley, Bristol Rovers and in other games, we’ve shown this and that can only stand us in good stead for the rest of the season because we don’t know when we’re beaten.”