Archive for September, 2005

Port Vale Preview – update

Geordie_Saddler @ 11:47 am Friday 30 September 2005

Saddlers make the short trip up to North Staffs with a fair few injury problems, something that Merson has rarely encountered in his managerial career. Merson has drafted in 19 year old Southampton left-winger Simon Gillett as reinforcements.

Merson himself, Wrack and Daryl Taylor are out long term, restricting the wide midfield options, while Mark Wright may have to cover full-back in the absence of suspended Pead.

Any possibility of reverting to 3-5-2 also seems slim with Staunton injured again and Roper still not 100%.

Gillett will likely contest the left midfield spot with Kris Taylor who was spent spend Tuesday night sitting in the naughty corner after an alleged spat with Merse making the preferred option a midfield four with either Leitao or Husbands on the right – but as ever, take your guesses.

Unfortunately the days when a trip to Vale Park was the biggest nailed on away win of the season are consigned to nostalgia, and Vale are an awkward proposition on their own patch. Young on-loan Wolves forward Chris Cornes was their hero with a mid-week brace against Oldham, he celebrated by signing for another month and could start should Nathan Lowndes fail to shake off the injury that kept him out of that game.

Vale have problems similar to Walsall with injuries on the left side of midfield and a suspension for ex- Saddler Tony Dinning. One old boy who should figure is Danny Sonner as they bid for a first win in four starts.

Predictions? Vale will be in white and the is about as confident as it gets, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a low scoring draw between two sides struggling with injuries to their attacking options.

As for the derby atmosphere for a fixture once described by Jasper Carrott as the midlands equivalent of Rangers/Celtic, that might be down to how many Saddlers travel, as Vale pulled in a mere 3,700 on Tuesday night, prompting their chairman to question the long-term future of the club.

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Port Vale Pubs

Geordie_Saddler @ 12:25 pm Thursday 29 September 2005

Saturday brings a visit to dark satanic Burslem and a rather spooky road approach past the cemetery and resting place of 18th century witch Peggy Lee who terrorised the area and allegedly refused to stay put in her grave until she was buried facing South, a Saddler perhaps?

If that doesn’t give you the creeps then remember The Red Lion by the ground is allegedly where Robbie Williams’ grew up with a Saddlers induced football complex.

This bar tends to be very home orientated, and almost impenetrable after 1pm unless you have a password and know the secret handshake, (come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough??)

Generally, you do still have to watch yourself due to the “history” between the clubs, but also because it’s the policy of several pubs not to allow away fans in for big matches, and for Vale it doesn’t get much bigger than this.

The away end exits onto Hamil Rd. which is home to the rather compact and bijou “Vine”. A decent enough pub that does its best to welcome away fans despite being set fire to by Huddersfield Supporters following their relegation a few years back.

However, if you get there early there is a little known gem of a pub tucked away in Burslem town centre called the Bulls Head which is the official tap of the local Titanic Brewery. The bar is very welcoming with open fire and traditional feel and last time I was in they did stunning hot pork sarnies.

To reach this pub: with your back to the away end head right down Hamil Road and right again down Moorland Road past the Red Lion until you reach the market area, it’s on St John’s Square at the far end of the market – about a 10 minute walk from the ground.

Train travellers exiting the station four miles away at Stoke have two studenty chain bars directly opposite, namely the Firkin and the Roebuck (It’s a Scream chain).

They are actually quite pleasant when Stoke are away, and boast the usual immovable heavy wooden seats, passable but overpriced lager and enormous burgers to keep skinny little students from starving to death between visits home.

A taxi from here to Burslem is the order of the day as fares in Stoke tend to be reasonable, and the drivers are always good craic for a yarn about Stanley Matthews, whose main claim to fame of course, was that he opened Bescot Stadium – (there’s your ice breaker folks).

Walsall vs Brentford Report

neilr @ 7:39 am Wednesday 28 September 2005

For the second year in succession, the Saddlers found themselves outfought and out-scrapped at home by a Brentford that looks like it could make the play-offs again, but this time they didn’t concede and ended up with a point.

Don’t get me wrong, Brentford are not a very good side, but they are very, very effective. Helped by a referee who got all of the major decisions right, but none of the minor ones, their spoiling tactics worked to perfection against a Walsall team struggling for ideas once Plan A failed to work.

The Saddlers lined up with a strange formation, a 4 4 2, with Merson on the right wing, Leitao on the left and Husbands up front with Fryatt. Taylor (rumoured to be because of a row with Merson before the game) and Standing (for no apparent reason) didn’t even make the 16, which meant the bench had a very defensive look to it with Staunton, Bennett, Kinsella, Wright and Gillmartin.

Brentford set their stall out straight away, making sure the game was very compact and that there was no room in the middle of the park. Merson had a free kick early on which brushed the post and showed a few nice touches, but just wasn’t seeing enough of the ball to be effective. Jorge on the left wing was a complete passenger, as the ball never went near him and Walsall were left trying to hit early balls to the front men, most of which were gobbled up easily by the outstanding (for the second year running) Sodje.

Brentford in general had the edge in the game and it was crying out for Husbands and Leitao to be swapped over. They weren’t and the only change came when Merson, of all people, mistimed a tackle in his own area, the player didn’t go over (fortunately, as some refs may have given it), and the player-manager pulled a groin muscle in the process. Wright came on in his stead.

Wright’s presence at least gave our play a little more pace for the few minutes left of the half, as we had been ponderous and turgid until then. The coaching staff (or Merson, depending on whether he was still getting treatment or not) obviously thought the same, as another change was made at half time, with Bennett coming on and playing on the left wing. Again, we can only presume Husbands was injured and there was really no other choice to play in that position.

Bennett did add some width and put over a some decent crosses at first, but he too began to fade out of the game in the second half, as did the whole team, to a certain extent, despite the extra width stretching the game more and putting Brentford under more pressure. We were not really creating chances, however, despite one header from Smith which dropped just past the far post and we were indebted to Ruddy for one good save and one excellent save before the end to maintain the 0 – 0.

All in all, it was a clean sheet, but the worrying aspect of the game was the fact that the opposition looked so much fitter, winning every 50/50 ball and always quicker into the tackle and the pass. We also contrived to look very shaky at every set piece and Merson needs to look carefully at what his coaching staff are doing. He had said that he thought we were very close to where he wanted us to be, but, to be frank, we just did not compete the way Brentford did.

Fryatt Signs Contract Extension

neilr @ 10:35 am Tuesday 27 September 2005

The reason for the delay in Matt Fryatt signing the contract extension he had been offered in the closed season was revealed today, as he put pen to a one year deal, rather than the two years he had been offered originally.

The England Under 19 star striker, already the Saddlers’ leading scorer this season, had been the subject of intense speculation as to his future leading up to the transfer deadline, but this deal will not end that, according to Jeff Bonser.

“From the clubs point of view we are looking for Matty to score the goals to help us reach The Championship,” said Chairman, Jeff Bonser on the official site. “It is his desire, and quite rightly so, to play at a much higher level and although we are extremely pleased that he has signed this extended deal, we have an arrangement that if another club shows genuine interest and it represents a move forward for his career, we would not stand in his way.

Obviously any bid would have to reflect the market value at that time before it is considered, but until that happens, Matty Fryatt has committed himself to Walsall Football Club and scoring goals.”

Fryatt commented “We’ve been in talks over a new contract for a while now and I’m glad that everything has been agreed and signed. Walsall FC have been good to me over the years and I hope that I can continue to play well and score goals to help the club push for promotion to The Championship. As is the case with any ambitious player; I want to play at the highest possible level as soon as I can, and the club have assured me that they will not stand in my way should the right offer from the right club come in.”

Walsall vs Brentford Preview

neilr @ 7:17 am Tuesday 27 September 2005

Merson’s merry men will be returning to Bescot this evening hoping to capitalise on an efficient away win on Saturday. Will the Saddlers start showing a measure of consistency at last?

Jorge Leitao has recovered from the injury which forced him off while winning the penalty for the opening goal on Saturday and Walsall will be missing long term injury victims Wrack and Oakes. Taylor and Roper are approaching full fitness at last, but this game is probably a little early for them.

Standard wisdom is that you shouldn’t change a winning team, but Merson has never been afraid to tinker and the prospect of two games in four days may be daunting for some of the old legs in the side.

Brentford were flying high before the weekend and their surprise 3 – 2 home defeat by previously appalling Bristol City. Despite that defeat, they are still in fourth spot, with a record of:

P 10 Won 5 Drawn 2 Lost 3 For 16 Against 11 Points 17.

They should have left back Andy Frampton back for the trip, following a suspension and charismatic manager Manager Martin Allen has been threatening changes to his starting XI following their first home defeat of the season.
Paul Brooker should return in midfield after stepping off the bench to score against the Robins, while striker DJ Campbell – another second-half substitute against City – could also start.
Captain Ricky Newman is still out with a knee injury, while midfielder Oli Skulason (knee ligaments) is a long-term casualty and neither are given any chance of making the game.

The game will see one of the highest scoring attacks in the league pitted against what was, until Saturday’s debacle against Bristol City, one of the meanest defences, so something should give. What Saddlers fans will not want to see is a repeat of last year’s game at Bescot, when the Saddlers put in one of their worst home performances of the season, losing to a John Salako penalty given away by Darren Wrack, who was playing left back at the time! Saturday’s win should have given the side some confidence to get on a run to see them safely in the play off positions, something they are surely good enough to do.

Andrew Poole, from the official site, has contacted UpTheSaddlers to add: “The Official Walsall FC Web-site have never reported that Craig Pead will be suspended for tonight’s game.”

Scunthorpe Vs Walsall Part Two

neilr @ 4:11 pm Saturday 24 September 2005

Osborn’s Match

Scunthorpe had obviously had a rollicking from Laws at half time, as they came out in a much more positive mood, but Walsall stayed secure enough, so much so that Ruddy wasn’t having to touch the ball in anger. The old failings from this season showed up again, though, after nine minutes, when the defence went completely to sleep and top scorer Sharp was left with a simple tap in to equalise for the ten men.

Time for someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck and someone did – Simon Osborn. He first produced an exquisite chip from the edge of the box to put the Saddlers ahead again, a goal which should be a contender for goal of the week, probably goal of the month and maybe goal of the season, then turned his man and hammered home the third to surely take the points.
The Saddlers finished with Husbands, Wright and Fryatt on the pitch and Scunthorpe were unable to take any risks with that much pace lined up against them

3 – 1 to the Saddlers then, as the players again responded to a bad run as they did so often last season. This was not a great performance, however, as the lapses were still there at the back, it’s just that Scunthorpe never looked capable of exploiting them. Three very, very welcome points and a confidence boost, however.

Man of the Match was undoubtedly the magnificent Osborn, who was superb in midfield even without the two goals, but Smith also had a fine game, as he starts to reach match fitness at last.

Scunthorpe United vs Walsall Half Time

neilr @ 3:00 pm Saturday 24 September 2005

The Fat Controller reporting from Scunthorpe.

The home side, if anything, started the brighter of the two sides, but that didn’t last long, as Scunthorpe decided to help out the under pressure Paul Merson by pressing the self destruct button.

First of all, Jorge Leitao twisted and turned into the area, only to to brought down from behind for a clear penalty. Matty Fryatt duly stroked the spot kick into the bottom corner, as usual.

Leitao was injured in this incident and had to go off not long afterwards, but this meant a change of formation, as Merson went further forward as we adopted a 4 4 1 1, giving the team better shape.

Scunthorpe decided to help the cause even more when Simon Osborn produced a bad foul on Ryan, for which he was rightly boooked, but the home player got up and elbowed Ossie in the face, receiving a stright red card.

The rest of the half was something of a none event, with Scunthorpe having the better of the possession, but Ruddy being vitrually unemployed, with Smith and Osborn controlling the middle of the park.

Team Line Up vs Scunthorpe

neilr @ 1:36 pm Saturday 24 September 2005

Team line up directly from the Fat Controller at Scunthorpe:-

Ruddy

Pead Westwood Gerrard Fox

Merson Osborn Taylor Smith

Leitao Fryatt

Subs: Staunton, Kinsella, Husbands, Wright, Gilmartin

Sunny, but cool.

Scunthorpe United vs Walsall Preview

neilr @ 8:17 am Friday 23 September 2005

Merson at the Crossroads.

Newly promoted Scunthorpe, under experienced manager and former Forest star Brian Laws, have been one of the surprise packages in Division 1 so far this season. They are lying in fifth position at the moment, having won 5, drawn 2 and lost only 2 of their games so far. A large part of their success is down to their home record, having won 4 and drawn 1 of their last six. It hardly seems like the best of games for Walsall to get their season back on track, even if the Manager has said that he’s “quietly confident”!

The problem with doing Walsall match previews at the moment is that no one has the slightest idea of what eleven will be starting and what formation we will be playing. Walsall will, of course, be missing long term injury victims Wrack, Oakes and Taylor (although he is now approaching fitness), but will welcome back injury victim Staunton and the suspended Bennett.

Everton ‘keeper Ruddy is certain to make his debut and Merson has been hinting that he will play himself (his exact quote was “I’ve never ducked a challenge in my life. Don’t be surprised if I’m in the team on Saturday.”), so I’m half expecting a 3 5 2 of Ruddy, Pead, Westwood, Gerrard, Staunton, Fox, Osborn, Smith, Standing, Merson and Fryatt, but it’s basically anyone’s guess!

Scunthorpe’s main injury problems so far have concerned defenders Andy Butler and Lee Ridley, but both have been targeting this game for their returns, so the Iron’s line up may also show changes from their last outing. Their top scorer is former Sheffield United youngster Billy Sharp, with four goals, but most eyes will be on their 39 year-old veteran winger Peter Beagrie, who, even at his age, is likely to give the Saddlers’ right back a close examination, so Pead, if it is he, will get another lesson in his development as a full back.

Predictions? You must be joking, as anything could happen with this Walsall team! Merson is promising a tighter ship, having said that he is looking to start holding onto leads when we get them, which is ironic in view of the fact that many fans originally welcomed his appointment because we wouldn’t be playing those kind of tactics. Still, needs must where the devil drives and the rot has to be stopped now before the player manager is forced to learn the way to the Sutton Coldfield job centre, something which, judging by the reaction of the fans following the home debacle against Chesterfield, may not be far away. Such is the charisma of the man, however, and the amount of goodwill he has received from Saddlers, that he is also only a couple of good results away from forgiveness. He stands at the crossroads indeed.

Merson Picks Up Another 18 Year Old

neilr @ 9:47 am Thursday 22 September 2005

Walsall have taken Everton youngster John Ruddy on loan for a month as cover for the injured Andy Oakes.

Ruddy is 18 and started his career at Cambridge United, where he made 43 appearances, before moving to Goodison Park last season. Everton let him stay at Cambridge for the remainder of the season, where he played a part in their relegation fight.

He’s 6’4″ and is a team mate of Matt Fryatt, being the current England Under-19 keeper.

“He is a talented young lad who won’t let us down,” said Paul Merson on the official web site. “It’s a weight off my mind to have him here because we have two tough games coming up in a short space of time where we need a big presence in goal and he will give us that. He is very highly-rated within the game and I am delighted to have him here initially for a month.”

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