At half time in this game, as the players left to boos, it was looking depressing. No shots on goal, and even Ray Graydon admitting his players were second to every ball. But this was Sheffield United we were up against, a side transformed by the arrival of manager Neil Warnock – unbeaten since he took over.
Whatever Sir Ray said to the lads at half time, and rumour has it balti pies were involved, the 2nd half was a different story.
Mark Robins came on for Jamie Forrester, who looked keen but not match-sharp, and although he’s taken stick from the fans this season, in fairness Mark did have a big hand in changing the game. Twice in the opening minutes of the second half he helped set up chances for Darren Wrack, the best of them seeing Wrack’s effort blocked by the keeper’s legs.
One thing I noticed watching the game was that every time Walsall had a set piece, on-loan Tom Bennett went up to Gabby and said “let me have a go”. Every time Gabby said, no thanks. But following a throw-in, the ball came to Bennett, and he quickly whipped in a great ball to the box which caught United napping. Who was on hand, having made a blistering run, but captain Ade Viveash, who blasted home like Alan Shearer. His first league goal in ages.
Sheffield looked dangerous from every set piece they had – their goal had come midway through the first half after Jim had failed to claim a ball from a corner – and there were some nervy moments midway through the second half.
Then Darren was taken off, not before time as to be honest he looked out of sorts. Pedro came on, and immediately looked lively. By this time Kevin Harper had begun to make a telling contribution, reminding the crowd of what Wrack used to do to 2nd division clubs last season. And then Rambo came on from Micky Ricketts, who looks a slightly more effective player away from Bescot when on the counter-attack.
All three of Graydon’s changes were involved in the winner, eight minutes from time. Robins fed Pedro, who showed great skill down the line, his ball in eventually fell to Harper, who blasted it at the keeper, who couldn’t hold it, and the ball fell for Mark Robins to head home.
And then in the closing minutes 2 things I’ve never seen at Bescot before. First, the faithful cheering a Wolves win – and second, some tactically sound running the clock down play, chiefly architected by Kevin Harper and Tom Bennett – perhaps some experience playing.
All in all, a brilliant result for Ray’s men. And whisper it very quietly, as Vale have a game in hand, but we’re out of the bottom three.
Man of the match – shared between Harper for his second half display and Ade Viveash. Mr Paul Taylor needs to be on the phone to Jim Smith tonight to try and get the lad to stay at Bescot for the remainder of the season.