Archive for March, 2006

Blackpool vs Walsall Preview

neilr @ 10:10 am Friday 31 March 2006

The time for anti nail biting kits is now well and truly with us, as what should have turned out to be a relaxing early spring weekend trip to a classic British seaside resort has become an out and out relegation six pointer. Never will have the prospect of a trip to Blackpool and Bloomfield Road seemed more daunting, as defeat would leave the Saddlers needing something like ten or twelve points to reach safety with just seven games left. It might yet be brown underwear time.

After (crucially) missing out the Bradford game with an ankle injury, Oakes should be back in goal for the game. That should, in itself, give the defence more confidence than Rene Gilmartin managed to give them last week. I would expect the rest of the defence to come from Pead, Westwood, Roper, Gerrard and Fox, the question being whether Pead gets a recall or not. I think it’s likely to be not, and a place on the bench.

In midfield, back should come key duo, Simon Osborn and Pablo Mills. Mills, I would think, is likely to be picked in midfield, rather than defence. As for the rest, James is likely to be out for at least another week and Smith and Standing have tests on the injuries that have kept them out (groin and thigh, respectively). With Demontagnac serving the second game of his two match suspension, I have a feeling we might see a five man midfield of Wright, Osborn, Mills, Keates and Devlin, (and Timm somewhere in the equation too), with debut boy (sic) Steve Claridge ploughing a lone furrow up front.

Having said all of that, Broadhurst does have options in midfield, especially if Smith and Standing are fit, as Leary also comes into the reckoning and he also has Barrowman, Constable (scorer of both goals in the home fixture) and Fitzgerald to go up front.

For Blackpool, striker John Murphy will return to lead the line despite fears he would be out with a neck injury and will be partnered up front by the player whose antics make Didier Drogba’s look like a picture of sobriety, Keigan Parker.

On-loan Plymouth midfielder Keith Lasley (who can also play full back) has a foot problem and faces a fitness test, but another loanee midfielder Kevin Lee (Wigan) could make his Seasiders debut.

Whoever the Saddlers have at right back will also be facing an ex England International, in the shape of Jason Wilcox, although his pace went a while ago!

Predictions? Well, Blackpool have had a remarkably similar season to us, in some ways. They started out with an inexperienced former International footballer at the helm, in the shape of Colin Hendry, but a string of poor results led to his dismissal in November. They went for the inexperienced option again, however, in the shape of player manager Simon Grayson, and, although they have done better under him, they are still only in 19th place, a single point ahead of us.

Their home record, in terms of wins and draws, is identical to ours, but they have been on a decent run of form lately at Bloomfield Road, having won 3 and drawn 2 of the last six games there. Walsall’s current away record is, of course, just as impressive, with the win at Tranmere and draws at Swansea, Colchester and Southend, so this is a difficult one to call. I never like depending on the performance of one individual, but Claridge’s ability to hold the ball up could be crucial tomorrow and, if he performs, I expect a point as a minimum from this one. On the other hand, let’s make it three, for Oli.

Supporters are reminded that the away end at Bloomfield Road is uncovered, so you are advised to take along waterproof clothing to protect you from the lashing rain and gale force winds that are normally associated with the “Windy City”!

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Geordie\’s Pub Guide to Blackpool

neilr @ 9:08 am Wednesday 29 March 2006

Here’s this week’s pubs in conjunction with MMF mystery tours.

So here we are at the traditional zenith of away days, Blackpool. The trip this year of course dedicated to Oli Hewitt who tragically passed away last week.

Oli typified the reclaiming of away trips like this for regular fans who like a pint and some banter with their football.

Joly knew how to enjoy himself, he had a few beers and supported his team passionately but he knew where to draw the line. Even when emotions were running high over the Merson debacle he retained the humour and humility that have always been the most admiral traits of Walsall away followings.

He was a top lad who would have been looking forward to Blackpool, so by way of a bit more organisation this week MMF and the lads have timetabled three watering holes that underpin this week’s pub-guide amidst the chaos of the Blackpool pub scene and the search for that most elusive of football grounds.

We know by now that God laughs when men make plans so accompanied by much heavenly hilarity we will aim for, heading North to South (that’s left to right with the sea at your back)…The Foxhall at 11.30 (that’s AM Saturday morning!). Next is a trip to The Manchester further along the Prom at 12.30, and finishing up at the old favourite, The Dutton Arms on the corner of Waterloo Road and Promenade at 1.30.

Suffice to say in terms of the nature of the bars, they are all fairly cavernous seafront locations geared up for stag and hen “entertainment”, and on match-days very much away orientated, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tangerine shirt on Blackpool seafront. From The Dutton it’s a straight walk up Waterloo Road to Lytham Road and then left and right into Bloomfield Road.

If you prefer something more traditional, there are plenty of bars on Lytham Road, the pick of which are The Old Bridge and The Auctioneer. Although the service in The Bridge is painfully slow.

Just one thing, don’t forget to go to the match.

Quite a few did last year, and a few more got refused after too much lager. If ever we needed to get behind the lads then this is the one, and what better way than some raucous renditions of “Joly Ollie’s barmy army”. If you need an incentive to avoid making an April fool of yourself just right the word “portaloo” on the back of your hand as a reminder of the delights of Bloomfield Road’s temporary away stand.

And the long range weather forecast is? It’s going to lash it down. Oh dear!!

Early team News for Blackpool

neilr @ 3:28 pm Tuesday 28 March 2006

Walsall are hoping that Andy Oakes will be fit to return to the side in the vital away game at Blackpool next weekend.

Walsall Manager Kevan Broadhurst says he wasn’t displeased with Rene Gilmartin’s performance against Bradford, but h does want his number one back for this crunch game.

“Andy should be fit the weekend,” said Broadhurst. “He’s had a bit of discomfort in his ankle but with another four days to go before the game we are optimistic he will be okay.”

Anthony Gerrard and Mark Wright, who both limped off against Bradford, should also be okay for the trip to Bloomfield Road but Kevin James and Grant Smith are unlikely to be ready.

Smith has a knee niggle while the hamstring strain that forced James off in the second half against Bradford looks set to rule him out for a week or two.

Bradford Boss Lends Support to Kevan

neilr @ 11:39 am Monday 27 March 2006

Kevan Broadhurst has received some unexpected support for his belief that we can pull clear of the bottom. It comes from last Saturday’s opponent, Colin Todd.

Todd gave an interview to the PFA site, Gimmefootball.com, in which he paid the new Walsall manager some complements.

“Kevan is his own man and he has picked up things along the way, but he has been in management before, so he’s learned the trade and it’s not as though it is new to him. Coming in as manager with the position Walsall are in can only be good for them. He is hard taskmaster and has good principles. He has tried to get them to play, which is important. He could never play himself mind!”

He was also asked about the loan of Steve Claridge to the Saddlers:

“Steve Claridge did very well away from home for us and got some vital goals but his home form wasn’t the best even though he’s a fit guy. He came to see me on the Friday before we played Oldham and wanted to know where the ground lay in terms of next season. I said you are going to have to wait until after our game next Tuesday. There’s no smoke without fire, as the deadline was on Thursday and he came knocking on the door on Monday morning and asked if he could go on loan. I said if you have got a club then by all means get yourself fixed up and he’s ended up at Walsall”.

When asked if he thought Claridge could help us stay up, he said:

“Kevan will be hoping he can lead the line as they have got some youngsters. I think him and Paul Devlin might be a fair partnership as Devlin has good experience and knows what the game is about”.

Walsall vs Bradford City Report

neilr @ 10:02 am Sunday 26 March 2006

Well, for 40 minutes yesterday, the world seemed to be a lighter place for the long suffering Saddlers fans. It didn’t last, though.

Oakes had picked up and injury in training and Smith failed his fitness test, but Keates was available again, so we lined up:

Gilmartin, Westwood, Gerrard, Roper, Fox, Wright, Leary, Keates, James, Timm and Devlin, in what was, really, a 4 4 1 1, with Timm dropping deep.

Once the team settled down to the new line up, we were much the better side in the first half. Timm was dropping off deep and Bradford weren’t picking him up at all. He cut down on the fancy stuff, kept it much more simple and we really benefitted. Leary looked much better than Tuesday, Keates’ prescence made a lot of difference and Devlin and James were buzzing (despite James being on the wrong wing). The only downside was that Mark Wright now decided to have a complete mare. With Westwood looking solid behind him he was released into space time and time again, but with no end product. For some reason he seemed reluctant to take on his full back on the outside and kept cutting back onto his left foot!

Eventually, pressure told when Leary unleashed a piledriver from the edge of the box which smacked against the post. James reacted far, far quicker than anyone else to stoop and head home the rebound.

We then looked more and more dangerous, unfortunately without testing the dodgy looking Bradford keeper enough. However, we then won a corner out on the right, the delivery was spot on and Westwood was unmarked to make it 2 – 0. Much better than the useless short corner routine that went completely wrong just before that!

With just five or so minutes to go to half time, all we needed to do was keep the football. Unfortunately Danny Fox, not for the first time in the game, showed his complete inexperience by trying a glory ball down the left which just handed the possession back to the opposition. Bradford patiently built an attack from there and, eventually, a wicked an excellent cross from our right was headed home. Very disappointing, as, if we’d have gone in at 2 – 0, the game would have been over.

Second half, our lack of confidence caused by our poor run since Christmas began to take hold. Wright’s performance went from bad to worse and Fox, on the other flank, was getting a complete roasting from Wright’s equivalent. Mind you, he was easily their best player.

Eventualy, Golmartin failed to deal with a routine hoof into the box, produced a terrible punch and Wetherall hooked it back over his shoulder to score. Well, it’s in the rules that he has to score against us.

Broadhurst changed it around eventually, but his choices were limited by Timm tiring and James and Gerrard picking up knocks. We finished with Devlin on the right wing and Fitzgerald and Constable up front. Fitzgerald should have done better with one chance he got and Constable completely wasted one golden opportunity. Wright bottled out of a challenge with the keeper when he should have done far better, but we were also grateful to Gilmartin for very good save late on, when Fox was caught out yet again.

Overall, this was a much better perfomance than Tuesday night. However, Wright’s confidence looks completely shot and he needs to be dropped. With M****** having left us with no left wingers, however, other than the suspended Ishy, it’ll be difficult to achieve. Let’s hope Smith is fit.

Westwood actually looked to be our best right back yesterday, but Fox looks in need of a rest and struggled all afternoon. Trouble is, the only alternative is Smith, so that’s two positions he needs to play in. Thanks a lot M*****.

Leary did OK, but the return of Osborn and Mills means he’s surplus to requirements really.

Up front, give Devlin and Timm someone to hold the ball up for them and they’ll cause trouble. Enter Mr Claridge.

The best thing of the afternoon? The chants of “There’s only one Jolysaddler” that rang out during and after the game. Enough said.

Derby\’s ex Birmingham Ace Was Target

neilr @ 3:56 pm Friday 24 March 2006

The Evening Mail has revealed the name of another of Kevan Broadhurst’s deadline day targets.

The Walsall manager had managed to sign Steve Claridge on a loan deal until the end of the season, but it now seems that he had been looking to strengthen his defence as well.

Derby County’s ex Birmingham City full back Jeff Kenna was also a target, throwing into question either the manager’s confidence in regular full back Craig Pead, or the fitness of the former Coventry City player.

Walsall vs Bradford City Preview

neilr @ 1:37 pm Friday 24 March 2006

Tuesday night’s home debacle against Yeovil has put the spotlight (and the pressure) back on Walsall’s home form and the lack of a goal threat. Kevan Broadhurst has brought in Steve Claridge on loan to try and give us some “stickability” up front, but the much travelled veteran striker will not be able to play tomorrow as Bradford still hold his registration. Problems, problems.

Oakes is the only real choice in goal, despite his unconvincing performance the other night. Pead may return, as Wright picked up an injury, which is why he went off, although he could play on the wing as well, if fit. The rest of the defence is available, other than the suspended Mills.

In midfield, it’s bare bones time. Wright will have a fitness test, as will Smith, following his substitution with a groin problem on Tuesday, and Keates, who may be fit again. Osborn will be sitting out the second (and last) game of his ban and Demontagnac the first of his, as the “7 day rule” on suspensions starting does not apply to red cards, only to the totting up of yellows. I suspect the choice will, therefore, come from Wright, James, Devlin, Timm, Leary, Keates and Smith, with Standing as back up if any of the injured players don’t make it.

The fact that Devlin and James may be needed in the middle of the park does restrict choices up front, where Barrowman, Constable and Fitzgerald will compete for the spots, as Atieno has gone out on loan.

As for Bradford, the fans are starting to put pressure on manager Colin Todd. There have been rumblings of discontent on the message boards, some of which revolve around our latest loan signing and rumours of rifts with the manager and Claridge not being given a proper chance. Let’s hope that team spirit isn’t very good!

They will be missing dangerman and leading scorer Dean Windass, currently serving a five game ban for abusing a match official in the car park after a game, so he is likely to be replaced by Saddlers loan target Aaron Wilbraham, who MK Dons refused to loan to us, as we are rivals at the bottom of the table. Former Manchester City star Richard Edgehill will be missing from midfield with a broken ankle.

Predictions? A funny side, Bradford. They are sitting in 13th place, just six points ahead of us. They do have, however, a better away record (5th in the table, won 6 drawn 5) than home record (22nd in the table, won 5, drawn eight), so are dangerous on opposition teritory. Their main goal threat, Dean Windass, is missing, however, and they will even miss Claridge, as all five of his goals this season have come away from home!

The Saddlers’ problem, however, does lie in that midfield. No left winger, as Merson left us with only one anyway, and two first choice midfielders suspended (Osborn and Mills) and two others doubtful (Keates and Smith). If the latter two are fit, then I’d expect a starting eleven of:

Oakes, Wright or Pead or Westwood, Gerrard, Roper, Fox, James, Smith, Keates, Devlin, Barrowman or Constable, Fitzgerald or Timm.

If that’s the case, I’d go for a narrow home win as that team just might have some goals in it.

Jolysaddler

neilr @ 10:15 am Friday 24 March 2006

For those who haven’t yet heard, the death has been announced of a long standing member of this message board, Oliver Hewitt, known universally as Jolysaddler.

Ollie was only 23 and his tragic loss, from at present unknown causes has deeply effected all the members of UTS and those who knew him personally

Those who wish to can sign a Book of Condolence on:

http://condolencemark.tripod.com/jolysaddler

Birmingham Legend Signs for the Saddlers

neilr @ 7:13 am Thursday 23 March 2006

The Bradford City Official web site is reporting that Kevan Broadhurst’s first signing is non other than former Blues, Leicester and just about everywhere else legend, Steve Claridge.

They are reporting that he has signed on loan until the end of the season, although he will not be allowed to play against the club which holds his registration this Saturday.

Claridge is a surprise signing, to say the least, being 40 later this year, but he does, at least, answer the description of a player well able to hold the ball up and bring others into play, something the team have been desperate for. Given the near total lack of first team games of our current centre forwards, Barrowman and Constable, his experience will also be invaluable.

Claridge has amassed 224 goals in his career, in over 600 games, as well as having managerial experience at Portsmouth and Millwall.
His full career deatails can be found here:

http://www.soccerbase.com/players_details.sd?playerid=1469

Walsall vs Yeovil Town Report

neilr @ 7:10 am Wednesday 22 March 2006

Well, after the Lord Mayor’s Show, the dustcart well and truely arrived at Bescot last night.

It’s been a long time since Walsall played at home, and they have been undefeated in three away games since, but, as we said in the match preview, breaking teams down at home is a completely different proposition. This was a dreadful performance, in the absence of the two players, Mills and Osborn, who had been holding the midfield together recently.

Broadhurt went with a 4 4 2, of Oakes, Wright, Gerrard, Roper, Fox, James, Leary, Smith, Demontagnac, Barrowman and Devlin. Yeovil lined up 3 5 2 and the Walsall formation couldn’t cope.

Let’s make no bones about it, the key to this game was that the middle four were terrible. Leary and Smith were mostly anonymous, giving the back four no cover at all and creating absolutely nothing. James was dreadful and hardly put a foot right all night, even his set piece delivery being woeful and fulfilling the warnings several Forest fans had given about him, while Demontagnac went missing for long periods and his main contribution to the first half was a deserved bookng for a late tackle on their right wing back. But more of him later.

The performance soon spread to the rest of the team. With no one covering, Roper got more and more nervous and his performance dropped in quality dramatically, Oakes was indecisive and worried the entire back four and Fox’s only answer was to lump the ball forward, as no one was coming to collect it from midfield.

Eventually, Fox and Demontagnac failed totally to close their man down, as he jinked his way into the box and crossed for the first goal. Poor defending and, although Fox was badly exposed, I’m afraid no full back should have let him get that cross in.

Shortly afterwards, Roper, now havign one of those occasional poor games he has, when he looks a complete donkey, let the ball bounce instead of heading it clear and it went over his head for a Yeovil player to latch onto and score.

All this might not have mattered too much, as Yeovil were pretty awful themselves, but we were offereing little if no threat up front, as the midfield gave no quality posession to Barrowman (who spent the evening trying to win impossible headers) and Devlin.

2 – 0 down at half time, then and Braodhurst decided to change things to 3 5 2, bringing on Timm for Wright, then Westwood for Smith later on, with Fox moving into the centre of the park. He was obviously thinking that James and Demontagnac would push further forward, making sure it didn’t turn into 5 3 2, buit he was to regret not taking Ishmel off and putting Fox out there. As for Smith and Wright coming off, it could have just as easily been Leary and James, for all the good they were doing.

Unfortunately, the crowding of the midfield didn’t have the desired effect and the game just got very scrappy. The only way a goal looked like coming was from a mistake and, quite frankly, it was Oakes and Roper who looked like making it and we had several lucky escapes, rescued by Anthony Gerrard, or the (when he did get on) excellent Westwood.

Barrowman started getting stick from the crowd, although how he was supposed to score when the midfield created nothing is beyond me, and Timm was reasonably ineffective, as the game looked like petering out. Enter Ishmel Demontagnac. A break down our left, Ishmel covers it, forces the player to turn away from goal (as he should), then he hacks him down from behind for absolutely no reason. Completely justified second yellow, as the player decided to go wild at the ref and his own team mates drag him away. That boy has problems.

Positives? Very few. Gerrard never stoped trying and his head didn’t drop, Devlin looked dangerous on the odd occasion we gave him decent possession and Westwood was excellent when he came on. As for the rest, on that performance, I’d send Leary back to Luton, as he gives us nothing different from what we have already, James was ineffective and might as well go back to Forest, as he’s no better than Wright, Timm is a luxury player who is wasting wages (although he was, at least, the only midfielder to try and keep the ball on the deck) and may as well go back to Old Trafford and Demontagnac should be told he has no future at the club, with that attitude.

Thank God Mills and Osborn will be back after Bradford.

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