This was, quite frankly, as shambolic a performance as you could ever wish to try and avoid, and that’s putting it mildy.
The first surprise was that the new keeper brought in as cover for Oakes while Coleman is on loan turned out to be not Rafa, but Irish youngster Rene Gilmartin, who we have had on trial for a few weeks. The second (or was it?) turned out to be Merson “doing a Ranieri” and making wholesale changes again. The Saddlers lined up Oakes, Pead, Westwood, Staunton, Bennett, Wright, Smith Taylor, Wrack, Leitao and Fryatt, with Fox failing to even make the bench.
Whatever the intention, it didn’t work, especially in midfield. Swansea were playing it long in the first half and, with Smith still patently unfit, to the extent that he just should never have been playing, the game just passed by the Saddlers’ midfield, with the other three failing to get hold of the ball. It still came as a bit of a shock, however, when Swansea scored, via ex Saddler Martinez and Craig Pead’s heel.
It was, possibly even more of a shock, however, when Walsall equalised when Fryatt turned Iriekpen brilliantly and, despite him mis-controlling the ball, the Swansea defender duly bought him down. Matty rarely misses from the spot. The Saddlers could even have gone in undeservedly leading, when a Westwood header from a corner smacked against the bar.
The defence had been under constant pressure during the first half, as the midfield were getting no possession at all and it looked as if changes were bound to be made at half time. They weren’t.
The second half was a chapter of seriously bad defending. Swansea had no problems embarrassing the Saddlers to the extent of no fewer than four more goals, not one of which could have been called good from the defensive point of view. Staunton and Bennett kept swapping position for some reason, and the defending was shambolic, specially down the flanks. Staunton was badly at fault with at least two of the goals and had a hand with the others as well. The worst example was giving the ball away on the edge of Swansea’s box and just not having the legs to get back. The jitters spread to the other flank as well, where Pead started making mistakes and the middle pair were by then all at sea.
Jorge did manage to get a goal back, but even that was debatable, as most fans were sure that the ref was going to blow for a foul on the keeper.
Eventually, Merson made the swop of Osborn for Smith (to cheers from the crowd!) and Standing for Wrack, but it was all far too late and, although the Saddlers’ play speeded up considerably and the team looked far, far better, the game had been long lost.
The crowd booed when Westwood was named sponsor’s man of the match, but it’s difficult to say who did deserve it. Certainly not a defender or midfielder!
This performance was down to team selection and tactics. Merson needs to learn this isn’t Chelsea, he isn’t Jose Mourinho and a settled defence is a better idea than changing it every game.