I’ve said once or twice after decent results away from home – hard fought wins in darkest Lancashire, for example, that those are the games that win you promotion. Well, this was the sort of game that wins you Championships.
Roper and Butler came back into the fold from suspension, while Gerrard disappeared from the sixteen, following him being stretchered off at Boston. Walsall lined up, therefore:
Ince, Westwood, Roper, Dann, Taylor, Bedeau, Dobson, Fox, Wright (M), Butler, Wright (T).
It might be nice one of these days to see a team come to Bescot with four across the middle and try to play, but the Shrews weren’t going to oblige. They lined up in a 3 5 2, in an attempt to crowd out our central pair. For 45 minutes it worked.
Once Shrewsbury had played their trump card of bringing on their twelfth man, referee Andy D’Urso, the first half was always going to be a sterile affair.
Neither team was able to get a grip in the centre of the park and Bedeau and Wright were being starved of decent possession down the flanks. Consequently, Butler and Tommy Wright got no decent balls at all. The defence, fortunately, was in no difficulty at all dealing with the Shrewsbury attacks, other than a couple of headers from set pieces and Ince was not troubled at all.
Enter Mr D’Urso. Having ignored completely Cooke flattening Fox in the area, when he was going for man, not ball, and then also failing to book the same player for leaving his foot in on Scott Dann, he was quick to spot a lunging tackle from Tommy Wright and produced an immediate red card, on 32 minutes. At this point, despite a surging run from Butler followed by a shot that went just wide, most fans would have been happy with a point.
Money must have been thinking of changes at half time, but, with being reduced to ten men, it could only be personnel, rather than tactical. On came Pead for Bedeau, with Mark Wright going to the right wing and Fox to the left. The move had been made, presumably to give us more energy down the centre. It worked beautifully.
After 52 minutes, Kris Taylor, who, whilst defending well, had done nothing in attack all afternoon, went on a mazy run from left back, beating three of four players in the process. The ball was worked out to the right wing, where Mark Wright cut back inside onto his left foot and hit a curling shot come cross around the keeper and in off the far post.
From that moment on, Wright’s confidence grew and grew and the Saddlers took charge of th game. Fox curled another free kick very narrowly wide, Butler put a diving header wide which he really should have done much better with, Wright, Westwood and Dann all had powerful on target drives blocked by defenders and Langmead somehow managed to clear over his own bar following a good run down the wing from Pead.
Ince was dominating his box, catching everything, so it came as a surprise when, with the minutes ticking away, when Leo Fortune-West, on as a sub, finally got a chance, which Scott Dann deflected onto the bar. Mike Newell’s favourite woman official said it hadn’t cross the line, one of many superb decisions she gave second half, unlike Mr D’Urso.
There was nothing fluky about this win. The 10 men were easily the better side second half. Ince, Westwood, Dann, Roper and Taylor were superb, so much so that Ince didn’t really have a save to make. Mark Wright got over his poor first half to have a storming second, especially once the goal went in. Fox was far, far happier out wide and Dobson and Pead were quite magnificent together. My Man of the Match, however, goes to the selfless running and ability to lead the line on his own demonstrated by the superb Martin Butler.