Paul Merson sprang a surprise this afternoon, lining up with an apparant 4 5 1, consisting of Standing, Kinsella, Taylor, Demontagnac and Sztybel across the middle. Osborn was left out completely, with WM Radio reporting that his hamstring strain hadn’t cleared up.
Whatever the explanantion, the line up didn’t work, as the Saddlers were pushed further and further back as Barnsley (and McPhail in particular) completely dominated possession in midfield.
Michael Standing had to go off injured after only eight minues and, strangely, Anthony Gerrard came on into midfield in his stead, rather than Joe Broad.
Posession was totally in Barnsley’s favour and only some stout defending and some very good goalkeeping from Joe Murphy kept Barnsley down to one goal, scored early on by Hayes, after 12 minutes.
The only bright spot at half time was that Barnsley had been playing with the wind behind them in the first half and the Saddlers would have that advantage for the second 45 minutes. However, we also had both Roper and Gerrard booked.
Merson decided to make the changes for the second half and took the ineffective Mark Kinsella off for Jorge Leitao, moving to a 4 4 2 formation.
The move had an immediate effect, as Walsall stated getting better possession and looked like getting back into the game, although the only shot we had came from Kris Taylor, easily saved by Colgan.
It seemed that the Saddlers had decided to completely shoot themselves in the foot after Craig Pead took it upon himself to run up to Howard and kick him while he was lying on the ground. A straight red card and an immediate three match ban.
Ian Roper was lucky to escape a second yellow after a bad foul, but it seemed the ref didnâ€™t wan to send a second player off.
Against the run of play, Jorge Leitao went on a good run and set up Matt Fryatt to score from open play for the first time for some games. Merson took the immediate decision to switch from the 3 4 2 we had been playing since Peadâ€™s sending off to 4 4 1, to try and protect the point and, within two minutes Barnsley struck again with Hayesâ€™s second goal.
Bennett immediately made a tremendous block to stop the Saddlers going three down.
Matt Fryatt had a goal disallowed for offside, probably rightly, but the rest of the game seemed to be petering out, hardly surprisingly, with the another downside of Walsall picking up more yellow cards, with Leitao and Taylor joining Roper and Gerrard in the book.
This was a spirited performance in the second forty five, considering Walsall were reduced to ten men, but the home side had far the better of the chances even so and this was a game which we should have got a point from normally. The first half performance, however, was completely shocking, described from the ground as one of the worst team performances seen from us for a while, and Barnsley probably deserved the points for that, well as we played second half.
Merthyr looms, with no experienced â€˜keeper and no right back