Archive for January, 2006

Swindon vs Walsall Full Time

neilr @ 9:51 pm Tuesday 31 January 2006

Just when the Saddlers seemed to be improving and ready to start getting points away from home, the wheels came off the trolley big time.

This was a poor second half from the team, to make a poor game in total and that was made only worse by the fact Walsall contrived to miss two open goals as well, courtesy of James and Constable, that might have given them a completely undeserved point.

The Fat Controller says there was little quality possession from Leary, Smith and Timm and little or no penetration. The ball failed to stick when we went forward and this was as dispiriting as you could get.

Even normally reliable players were failing tonight, as Fox got a roasting from his winger.

Swindon could easily have extended their lead during the second 45 minutes and, it has to be said, this was a relegation performance and one which has wasted our game in hand and still leaving us just two points from the drop. Considering the players he has been given the chance to bring in, this looks much like Merson’s swan song. The Chairman has to act now.


Swindon vs Walsall Half Time

neilr @ 8:44 pm Tuesday 31 January 2006

This was about as depressing as you can get. With the team needing to get points away from home, Merson decided to go for a 4 4 2, with Nicholls up front and James on the left wing. It didn’t work.

Everything that had been good recently was missing, as the only chances the Saddlers had were from long range.

In the meantime, Cureton missed a sitter with a close range free header, Oakes produced a super save from Peacock, then another from Cureton, before, finally, the ex Reading man and the bain of Walsall so many times, scored with a tremendous volley from 15 yards.

It’s difficult to find much positive to say.

Swindon vs Walsall Team News

neilr @ 7:22 pm Tuesday 31 January 2006

The Saddlers will be lining up at the County Ground as follows, according to the Fat Controller at the ground:-

Oakes, Pead, Westwood, Gerrard, Fox, Wright, Leary, Smith, Timm, Nicholls, James.

The subs are Gilmartin, Bradley, Osborn, Standing and Constable.

West wood has, therefore, passed a late fitness test and Bradley is on the bench as a defender.


Walsall Will Sign Two On Wednesday

neilr @ 4:02 pm Tuesday 31 January 2006

The official site is saying that we will be signing two new players on Wednesday (the deals are now being finalised), after the transfer deadline.

This is bound to start even more speculation as to the identity of the men concerned, but, in order to sign after the deadline, they must be out of contract. That means that the most likely names include Patrick Suffo, ex Blues striker Andrew Borrowman and Manchester United youngster Kenny Cooper, all of whom have been rumoured to be attracting Merson’s interest.

There have been several postings that we were also in negotiations with former Saddler Dean Keates, who has had his contract at Lincoln City terminated by mutual consent, but midfield is surely far less of a priority than strikers.

Swindon Town vs Walsall Preview

neilr @ 12:12 pm Tuesday 31 January 2006

After going out of the Cup on Saturday, it’s back to a vital league game at improving Swindon Town tonight, as we try to avoid being dragged into the mire. Saturday’s results left the Saddlers just two points clear of the relegation zone, although there are a couple of games in hand on some of the teams around us. We also have a run of away fixtures, where our form has been poor.

Still, we’ve got a solid defence to fall back on, haven’t we? Well, no. Ian Roper is not going to be fit tonight, Chris Westwood played with pain killing injections in an ankle injury on Saturday and is very doubtful and, to cap it all, Scott Dann was “feeling unwell” yesterday, so who knows what the defence will look like. Presumably, either Fox will move to centre back, Wright to left back, James to the wing and Constable in, or Bradley, who has been groomed as a centre back in the last couple of reserve games, might step in.

Midfield and strikers pick themselves, fortunately, as only Merson himself, Wrack, of course, and new signing Devlin are injured, so Merson has a wide choice (other than the left wing), even if there is no movement on bringing in a striker today. (Andrew Borrowman from Blues and Patrick Suffo are both on trial).

Still, bottom four Swindon shouldn’t present that much of a threat to our weakened defence, should they?

A while ago, they wouldn’t. However, they let Jamie Cureton out on loan, where he found some form and have sold Fallon, their “star forward” for £300,000, letting them make several signings, including Lee Peacock, snatched from under our noses, Paul Smith (remember him?), who is showing decent form for them, and now Trevor Benjamin on loan. They will present a big, muscular threat, with Peacock and Cureton starting (presumably) and Benjamin ready to come on.

The Swindon/Saddler links will also play a part tonight. They got Peacock when we were interested and we got Constable when they were, so the comparison between them could be fascinating. Manager Iffy Onoura was the first scapegoat of last season, when he got the push as Walsall coach, so he’ll feel he has something to prove. Paul Smith seems to be pleasing the Swindon fans and you do start to wonder about the “travelling” excuse he gave for leaving us, as the journey along the M4 and around the M25 can’t be that much better than the M1/M25 (or even the M11/A14) journey. Lastly, of course, Grant Smith will be returning to the club where he’s had the most successful part of his career so far. The sub plots will be interesting!

So, results? A win, please. Nothing else will do in the situation we find ourselves now. Unless we can find some away wins quickly, we will find ourselves in the bottom four and then, if confidence drains away, we could be in real trouble.

Geordie\’s Pub Guide to Swindon

neilr @ 8:26 am Monday 30 January 2006

Part four of the “Merson’s driving us all to drink” roadshow takes us to Swindon, and one of those places that should be a much better day out than it actually is.

Any Saddlers arriving by train could take the five minute walk into Fleet St. which is about 15 minutes walk from the ground and contains a plethora of above average drinking establishments from all the usual glitzy chains and theme houses.

Arkells is the local brewer and appropriately they sponsor the stand that houses visiting supporters, which I’m happy to inform does boast a bar.

Near the ground establishments are thin on the ground. The County Hotel on County Road right next to the ground does a nice pint of the local brew but it’s best to cover up those colours and be whistling The Worzels’ back-catalogue as you attempt to pass the bouncers.

There is parking available further along County Road at the cricket club, which is the away bar of choice for most car travellers at a small charge.

If you want to negotiate the infamous “Magic roundabout” more than once then take yourself down Drove Road (South –East exit off the third sub-roundabout) to The Merlin (formerly the Malt and Hops). This bar has been tastefully re-fitted with a multitude of TV’s and a more modern theme and is also away friendly.

A reminder that should we lose this one the Samaritans number is 08547 909090.

Merson To Miss Out On Skora?

neilr @ 2:51 pm Sunday 29 January 2006

It looks as if Merson is about to miss out on another of his long term targets.

Eric Skora, who Merson has made no secret of his desire to sign on a permanent basis, his contract being up in the Summer, is set to join Kilmarnock, the team where he had an extremely successful loan period some time ago.

Preston have finally, it seems, given up on the talented, if injury prone Frenchman, after he limped out his reserve team come back after just 32 minutes, at a time when Preston were looking to use him as midfield cover.

Speaking to Fans’ site this morning, Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnson said: “There are a couple of things to sort out. Tuesday is the deadline of course so we’ll know where we stand by Wednesday a.m.”

The BBC are saying that Skora is likely to be offered a two and a half year contract by the Scots.

Stoke City vs Walsall Full Time

neilr @ 5:04 pm Saturday 28 January 2006

The second half performance was much better, yet again, despite the half starting badly.

Luke Chadwick, on loan from West Ham, scored a cracking second for the home side, seemingly to make the tie safe. However, Mark Wright, a few minutes later, produced a cross which left Kevin James with a tap in to continue his excellent scoring record since arriving on loan.

Merson had decided to replace the out of his depth McDermott with Nicholls, and he began to trouble the Stoke defence, especially with his pace.

Nicholls hit the post and, towards the end, Ed de Goey, who had come on for the injured Sorensen, despite his age, made a great save to prevent the equaliser from Nicholls.

The criticism of the performance has to be that we just weren’t positive enough against a team playing with no confidence and in a really bad run of form. This was a very good opportunity lost.

To make things even worse on the day, the improving Bristol City beat Swansea at home and Blackpool beat Hartlepool away to leave the Saddlers just two points clear of the relegation zone and, looking the other way, 14 points behind Brentford in the last play off spot, having played the same number of games. Having gone out of two Cups in a week, the team need to get back to the bread and butter as quickly as possible.

Stoke City vs Walsall Half Time

neilr @ 4:03 pm Saturday 28 January 2006

The Fat Controller is reporting in from the ground.

After all the discussion on the board about whether he should play or not, Ian Roper was not fit enough even to make the bench this afernoon.

The Saddlers lined up, as predicted by Stonnall Saddler yesterday, Oakes, Pead, Westwood, Gerrard, Fox, Wright, Leary, Smith, McDermott, Timm, James.

Subs: Gilmartin, Bradley, Osborn, Standing, Nicholls.

Walsall matched the team from the higher division well in the first half, apart from one important consideration – up front.

Stoke were playing like a team short of confidence, hardly surprisingly, in view of their terrible recent home record. The Saddlers, accordingly, coped well with the fairly punchless attacks of the home side, although Sidibe had one golden chance. However, Walsall, despite plenty of possession, were themselves looking unlikely to create anything, with young McDermott looking out of his depth.

The last twenty minutes of the half saw the home side getting more of a grip on the game and keeping the majority of possession. The defence was, however, still coping well.

As the half passed into injury time, Oakes came for a cross and failed to clear the ball properly. A shot came in from distance, Gerrard blocked it on the line and Sidibe knocked in the rebound.

This is one of those games where we desperately need a “plan B”. McDermott is looking out of his depth, Demontagnac is missing from the 16 completely and our only options for change are more of the same sort of thing.

Stoke City vs Walsall

neilr @ 8:04 am Friday 27 January 2006

An Inspiration For The Youngsters:

They were heroes then……

Stoke City 0 Walsall 2, F.A Cup Third Round, 22nd January 1966

Walsall Team: Carling, Gregg, Harris, Sissons, Bennett, Athey, Riley, Clarke, Kirby, McMorran, Taylor.

It’s strange what makes people start following a football team. In the past, in most cases, I’m sure, it was fathers taking sons along to games that got them hooked. Nowadays it’s different with the over abundance of football on the TV and that’s the reason for so many Manchester United and Arsenal shirts being seen on the streets of Walsall and other towns around the country.
Unfortunately, I had a deprived childhood as far as that was concerned. It was my dad’s fault, as he seemed to have either a death wish or a masochistic desire to be the most hated man in the World. Not content with being a Stokie (the “Neil” is after Neil Franklin), he was also a time and motion man and a football referee to boot! The outcome of all that was, because he was refereeing in the West Midland League on Saturday afternoons, I did not get taken to games by him and my football education started very late (although I do remember him taking me to Fellows Park in the late fifties when he was Secretary of the Bloxwich Combination and sitting in the Directors’ “box”, which was as uncomfortable as the rest of the main stand!). To make matters worse, none of my friends at Junior school were football fans and it was only on going to the local grammar school (ironically a rugby playing establishment) that I started going to Fellows Park on anything like a regular basis.
It was Dad who gave the first big encouragement, however, as he convinced me during our 62/3 season in the old second division to go and see the Saddlers play Stoke, so I could see his hero, Stanley Matthews, play. Naturally enough, he was injured!
I carried on going to Fellows Park during the next couple of seasons on a reasonably regular basis and even went to the 1965 League Cup tie at the Hawthorns, to see us lose 3 – 1, but there was no way I could have been called a passionate Saddlers fan, as it was always more a good day out with the mates. All that was to change one January afternoon at, of all places, the Victoria Ground, Stoke.

Walsall had started their FA Cup run reasonably well that season, beating Swansea 6 – 3 and Aldershot 2 – 0 away and were rewarded with an away tie against a top flight side, in the shape of Stoke City. Stoke weren’t amongst the best teams in the Division at the time, but did have some household names, in the shape of Maurice Setters, Dennis Violett and Peter Dobing.
Walsall at the time had the usual mixture of jouneymen pros, first Division rejects and home grown players, one of whom, Alan Clarke, was predicted to have a bright future ahead of him, and we were lying in mid table in the third division.

My mother at the time was a shift supervisor at William Bates in Hospital Street and one of the workers there was a Walsall regular. He knew that I went to see the Saddlers most weeks and asked her if I wanted to go. What with the Stoke City connections via my father, how could I refuse?

What followed on that Saturday was the kind of thing legends are made of.

Because of the colour clash, we lined up that day in claret and blue, the kit having reputedly been borrowed from Aston Villa. That in itself seemed to be a good omen, as, 33 years earlier, we had borrowed a blue and white kit from Coventry for the famous victory over Arsenal at the same stage of the Cup.

The game started with the home side on top, with Vernon and Setters going close, but the drama really started in 15 minutes in. Jimmy McMorran, who had passed a late fitness test, was brought down by Vernon and left limping. Substitutes had been introduced to the League that season, but the F.A., lagging behind the times as usual, had not changed the Cup rules, so it looked like we would have to play the remaining 75 minutes with only 10 fit men.
Howard Riley, a traditional bandy legged right winger, took the resulting free kick, the ball bounced off George Kirby, rebounded back to Riley, who hit a 20 yard half volley screaming into the top right hand corner of the net. A goal worthy of a man who had played in a Cup Final for Leicester.

By this time, McMorran had left the field and we played the rest of the half with only ten men. Stoke powered forward and threw everything at the Walsall rearguard. The defence stood up to the task, throwing bodies in the way of shots and tackling like men possessed. Stoke even got the ball into the back of the net, courtesy of a shot from Violett, but the Saddlers managed to convince the ref that the ball had, in fact, gone through a hole in the side netting.

The Walsall fans were looking forward to getting to the break with the team still ahead, when, in first half injury time, the drama took another twist.

From a break, Clarke chased the ball into the area, only for the Stoke goalie, Irvine, to get there first. What happened in that challenge, no one but the two players probably know, but as “Sniffer” turned away, Irvine aimed a kick at him. The referee pointed immediately to the penalty spot and Clarke ran lazily up to stroke the ball home. (A sign of how much the game has changed there – it would have been an automatic red card nowadays!).

Jimmy McMorran returned to the fray in the second half, limping about on the left wing, purely for nuisance value, but the game turned into one way traffic. The Walsall defence stood firm against everything thrown at them, but the real battle to watch was the one between Maurice Setters and George Kirby. Neither was a player to shirk a challenge and both had their disciplinary problems over the years, but, as Setters played further and further forward, trying to get the elusive goal, Kirby matched him all of the way. If it had been a boxing match, the referee might well have stopped it before both men took too much punishment. (The battle would be rejoined at Fellows Park the following season in the League Cup and was just as tough!).
Finally, just after a Colin Taylor piledriver had been saved by Irvine at the second attempt, the final whistle went and we had achieved a famous victory. (In another curious parallel with the 1933 Arsenal game, Irvine never played for them again and was shipped out to non League football, just as Chapman had got rid of Tommy Black in 1933).

So why does this game mean so much to me? After all, we had put almost as much into the defeat at the Albion in the League Cup the previous year, only to lose narrowly.
This was the day which changed my view of the Saddlers forever. The men who had played and fought that Saturday were no longer mere mortals, but had taken on the status of giants. Stan Bennett, brave as a lion and ever noticeable with his blond hair, throwing himself enthusiastically into every challenge. The silky skills and passing ability of the enigmatic Scotsman, Jimmy McMorran, a player I will talk about for hours to this day. The solidity and dependability of full back Frank Gregg and the leadership skills of John Harris, a man whose Walsall career would be tragically cut short through injury. The incredible athleticism of Nick Athey, who, despite his lack of inches, seemed to be able to out jump 6 footers at will. The battling qualities of George Kirby, always ready for a fight (in the right way, as well as the wrong sometimes). The powerful running and incredible shooting of the barrel chested Walsall legend, Colin “The Cannonball” Taylor. Above all, there was the sight of a man who was obviously destined for greatness, who seemed to stroll through a game displaying a kind of arrogance which complimented his skills and goalscoring perfectly, Alan Clarke. (I’ve been a sucker for that arrogant streak ever since and still think the greatest sight in football was the expression on Eric Cantona’s face after he scored).
If I close my eyes, I can still see the pitch at the Victoria Ground and the players taking the plaudits of the crowd at the end of the game – I was hooked now and forever!

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