Archive for August, 2008

Walsall vs Southend United Preview

Neil @ 12:49 pm Friday 29 August 2008

Southend. What can I say that’s good about Southend? It has got the longest pier in the world, but that’s about it! It even has the misfortune to be in Essex and, therefore, full of plastic Cockneys.

Of course, my wife and daughter’s watching of endless repeats of cookery programmes on UK We-Show-Any-Old-Rubbish-That-Costs-Us-Next-To-Nothing tells me that Jamie Oliver takes his nieces there for days out. You don’t think he’ll be coming, do you? That would be the final nail in the coffin of the attendances at the Banks’s.

I suppose Southend fans do deserve some sympathy, however, in that a lot of their glory moments seem to have happened with Barry Fry in charge. Barry Fry and Jamie Oliver, what a combination!

Anyway, to the football.

Jimmy Mullen has some real problems now. Last week’s pathetic defensive effort at Crewe has to be put behind the team, but he is now, of course, faced with the Anthony Gerrard situation. Even if Gerrard is still with us at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon, you’ve got to wonder if his mind will be on the job. Rhys Weston and Steve Roberts are back in training, but you’d have to question the wisdom of throwing Weston in at the deep end, when he’s missed virtually the entire pre season and hasn’t played a competitive game yet.

In midfield, it’s likely that Dwayne Mattis will not be ready either, which means that Mullen will have to make a decision about Taundry versus Bradley, and it’s also about time he decided what Reich’s best position is in the team.

Mullen also will have to make another tricky decision on who will partner Ibehre, as Ricketts serves out the last game of his suspension.

Southend Manager Steve Tilson seems to have few injury problems, missing just midfielder Alan McCormack, plus Begian Franck Moussa suspended. That means a likely start for Chelsea loanee Lee Sawyer in the middle of the park.

Dangermen? Full of them. Striker James Walker is back from injury, they have the ever dangerous Paul Furlong and Richie Forlan, plus they’ve signed a mystery French striker this week, Francis Laurent from FC Metz. He’s 6 foot three and a bit of a handful, apparently, if he plays. Oh yes, and Kevin Betsy is almost certain to score, isn’t he?

Predictions?

Southend have an almost exactly the same record as we do, played 3, won 1, drawn 1, lost 1. They have, however, been missing some key players who will be back (Walker, for example) and their one defeat was 0 – 2 at home to Brighton after Moussa was sent off and they were reduced to ten men.

This is going to be a tough proposition, with the effect on morale of the Gerrard transfer request, so I’m thinking this might well be a draw.

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Gerrard – Act Now!

Neil @ 12:49 pm Wednesday 27 August 2008

What most Saddlers have feared for some time has now happened. With the transfer deadline approaching rapidly, and interest reported from Blues and Wolves, by all accounts, Anthony Gerrard has handed in a transfer request.

The club have already made the usual noises about not wanting to sell the player, but also not wanting to stand in the way of anyone who wants to leave.

The danger here is, of course, that we have the Scott Dann and Danny Fox scenario arising again and we end up selling our first choice defender, with not enough time to get in a replacement before the window closes.

If he’s going to go, make it today and give the Manager the money!

Crewe 2-1 Walsall: Teams, Tactics and Tragedies

Exile @ 1:51 am Tuesday 26 August 2008

Before getting on to this week’s match report it’s worth considering the following. We’re mixing together a new team for this season, missing some of it’s more mercurial talent through injury or suspension, under the wing of a newly appointed manager who’s been ten years out of the league. The dough is yet to rise. How good is the yeast?

This week’s match report culled from the musings of regular Old Penk Saddler, who kindly posted on the messageboards his thoughts on the game.

Wrong team. Wrong tactics. Wrong Manager.

You could see after 20 minutes that 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 whatever it was, was not working.

Shocking hesitant defending from Smith, Boertien and Palmer. Hughes, whilst he scored a good goal really struggled with his fitness level and Grant made Taundry and him look like donkeys. Apparently Zaaboub was on the teamsheet but he hardly touched the ball.

Jabo played well and Reich impressed in patches.

When Mullen actually got the team and tactics right and brought off Zaaboub for Ishy we began to look useful in a 4-4-2 formation with Ishy up front, scored a good goal and were threatening.What did our glorious leader do then. He brought on Deeney for Nicholls and moved Ishy to the RIGHT wing. Momentum and game over.

Conclusions:

Boertien is no improvement on Sansara
We desperately need a new centre half as both Smith and Roberts aren’t good enough.
We even more desperately need Weston back
Taundry isn’t good enough as a central midfielder and its a scandel Bradley is behind him in the pecking order.
Hughes is good enough but hasn’t got the legs to get round the pitch. He should just sit in front of the central defenders.
Zaaboub is a luxury player that we can’t afford. Ishy should start.
Nicholls is played out of position on the wing and should be given a chance through the middle.
Reich improves each game but you can’t play him and Zaaboub in the same line up as they are both lightweights.
Jabo is carrying the team at the moment.
The manager is clueless.

League 1 one line roundup

Exile @ 12:09 am Tuesday 26 August 2008

After the match, the pontifications of the wise. We bring you a selection of gems from around the net – some priceless, some worthless:

“Most shots on goal went in for a change” Bristol R 6-1 Hereford “The squad simply isn’t good enough”

“We kept them in the game” Crewe 2-1 Walsall “Lacking in quality in key areas, namely defence, midfield and attack”

“The most frustrating match in years” Hartlepool 0-1 Stockport “A bit of a smash and grab”

“Sack Ternent now. Total Farce” Huddersfield 1-3 MK Dung “GBP20 in was a rip-off”

“There’s no quality in this league” Leicester 3-1 Tranmere “3-1 flattered them. Their fans were disgusting.”

“We battled boldly for a point” Leyton Orient 0-0 Carlisle “Any away point is a good point”

“We don’t need another striker” Northampton 0-0 Millwall “If they’d had a finisher we’d have lost this”

“Very disappointing crowd” Oldham 4-0 Cheltenham “Very disappointing performance”

“We only score from the spot” Scunthorpe 1-0 Peterborough “Disappointed to leave with nothing”

“We didn’t look bothered” Swindon 1-3 Colchester “We were all over them”

“They struggled to cope” Yeovil 1-1 Leeds “They were there for the taking”

Crewe Alexandra vs Walsall Preview

Neil @ 12:48 pm Friday 22 August 2008

It must be horrible coming from Crewe. It’s that weird thing they have of not knowing whether they’re in the Midlands or the North. It must adversely effect their brains – or, at least, it’s the only explanation I can think of for them thinking they are better than they really are in footballing terms. You know, the only club that ever produced a decent young player sort of thing.

Of course, at one time the town had something to be proud of, with it being the home of Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, but those days have long gone and both companies are no longer even British owned, so the town has even less going for it than it ever did before.

At least, however, I don’t feel quite as antagonistic to them nowadays, as they’ve got rid of the completely ungracious Dario Gradi, who never had a good word for us even whwn we did beat them fair and square!

Jimmy Mullen is the Manager going into the game with problems. Half of his first choice defence will be missing, as Weston and Stephen (Sicknote) Roberts will miss the game. Palmer and Manny Smith are the likely deputies.

In midfield, the influential Dwayne Mattis will also miss the game and most fans will be hoping for the greater creativity of Mark Bradley over Richard Taundry alongside Stephen Hughes.

Marco Reich showed enough last week for him to be pushing for a start, but the question there will be whether he plays up front in place of the suspended Michael Ricketts, or on the right wing. Plenty of choices to make for the Manager!
As for Crewe, coach Steve Holland is hoping centre-back Chris McCready will be fit enough to feature. The defender suffered a hamstring injury in the defeat at Carlisle, where he was replaced late in the game by George Abbey. Former Nigerian international Abbey and Daniel O’Donnell are on stand-by should McCready not recover in time.
Right-back Danny Woodards is expected to be fit after he also tweaked his hamstring at Brunton Park, while Calvin Zola could return from an ankle problem.
Zola sustained the injury in the defeat to Brighton on the opening day of the season, ruling him out of the games against Barnsley and Carlisle. A late decision will be made on the forward’s fitness.
New signing Clayton Donaldson could be in line for his debut after completing his move from Scottish Premier League club Hibernian.
Eugen Bopp is making progress in his recovery from the abductor strain he suffered against Brighton on the opening day of the season. However, this game is likely to come too soon for the winger.
Their dangerman will be the aforementioned Zola, if fit.
Predictions?
They’ve had a rotten start to the season. Lost at home to Brighton and away (heavily) to Carlisle. Both are good teams, but with the Railwaymen being rock bottom, they will be desperate to kick start their season. However, it’s another of those games we should be looking to win, if we have pretentions of success. I still would go for a draw, though!

League 1 one line roundup

Exile @ 5:12 am Monday 18 August 2008

After the weekend’s results, the post mortem. These one-line summaries from opposition sites:

“Route One” Brighton 1-1 Bristol Rovers “They should have won”

“Not interested in being top now” Carlisle 4-2 Crewe “Vulnerable back 4″

“Good performance” Cheltenham 2-0 Swindon “We lost to ten men”

“The fans are already moaning” Colchester 0-0 Huddersfield “We lack something up front”

“We deserved it” Tranmere 1-0 Hartlepool “We could and should have scored”

“We’ve got no cutting edge” Hereford 1-2 Yeovil “Our players were magnificent”

“That was unacceptable” Leeds 0-2 Oldham “Three great points”

“Resolute & respectable” Stockport 0-0 Leicester “Frustrating and unlucky”

“We were devastating” Peterborough 3-0 Leyton O “Outclassed and blown away”

“We got lucky late” Millwall 1-1 Southend “We got mugged in injury time”

“We want promotion” MK Dung 0-0 Northampton “No effort, no commitment”

Walsall 2-1 Scunthorpe “They posed no threat. 2 pts dropped”

Walsall 2-1 Scunthorpe: Match Report

Exile @ 4:49 am Monday 18 August 2008

For some reason our regular match reports aren’t coming as quickly this season – any volunteers to write up the night of the game are welcome to PM their reports to me. This from regular Plastic Hawk, who was at the banks’s's’ to see Walsall hit the playoff places:

Good result, but we were woefully undercooked for what was the third game of the season and the early sending off saved us from inevitable defeat (quite possibly a heavy one). However, there’s not much that can be done about that at this stage and I saw enough today to suggest that we’ll be much closer to the right end of the table than the relegation zone.

Defence was ropy, but given that neither Smith or Boertien got enough games under their belts in pre-season (and both were much better in the second half as they adjusted). The problem won’t get better quickly as when Weston comes back in with no pre-season behind him (as he surely will, since Palmer isn’t a League 1 player in a million years) he’ll take a game or two to settle. Admittedly there’s little to be done about Boertien and Weston, but Smith wasn’t given enough game time in the friendlies against proper sides (and alongside Gerrard or Roberts) so that’s entirely self-inflicted. Also, Gerrard didn’t look bothered. He needs to accept that while he’s a very good League 1 player, no Championship side is going to pay a fee for him (they might take him on a Bosman but I can’t see them paying cash), so he needs to accept that he’s stuck here and knuckle down to play properly for the duration of his contract in order to ensure he’s still marketable when he is out of contract.

Midfield was poor too, partly because Hughes is also under-prepared but largely because Taundry and Nicholls are being played out of position. Nicholls doesn’t know where to stand or run as a winger, so consequently it’s difficult to get the ball to him in dangerous positions. Since Reich (a winger) was playing up front the problem could have been solved by swapping them around. Taundry’s still nowhere near mobile enough to be a central midfielder and also doesn’t know how to look for space to receive the ball in such a congested area of the pitch – so he only had about ten touches all game. The movement’s not really his fault: he’s a full back. However, his weight is. It was forgivable as a first year pro breaking through last season, but as a more established player he ought to have been working in the gym all summer to get himself back in the right shape for a professional footballer. What worries me most, however, is that the manager thinks that Taundry is a better option than Bradley. That makes no sense to me at all.

Up front Ibehre was the clear man of the match. An absolute revelation. He looks like he’ll need a lot of chances to score a single goal, but he’s so awkward and worked so hard chasing things down that he’ll never have to wait long for another chance. He’ll score his share of goals this season and make plenty of chances for his partner. Which brings me to another problem with our tactics today: he didn’t have a partner. Reich seemed to be playing much deeper – and was lost as he didn’t get anywhere near enough of the ball there. Whether that was down to him or to his team mates not being used to looking there I don’t know, but either way it wasn’t working and should have been changed – especially after the sending off. Playing 75 minutes against ten men with only one out-and-out striker was ludicrous.

Once our players get match fit (and the four key players who were out today – Roberts, Weston, Mattis, Ricketts – return) then I can see us doing very well – assuming that the manager shows a bit more tactical awareness. Most of our problems today were self-inflicted (out of position players, not playing two up top against ten men, not preparing properly in pre-season, letting the game drift by not making subs early enough) but if we can avoid harming ourselves then there really should be enough quality in that side to compete with anyone in this division.

Walsall vs Scunthorpe United Preview

Neil @ 1:07 pm Friday 15 August 2008

We ought to be going into tomorrow’s game with newly relegated Scunthorpe with a measure of confidence. After all, they must be suffering from a little bit of a crisis themselves facing up to life in the third tier again and that seems to be born out by the fact that they lost their first home game of the season (albeit to Leeds) and also went out of the League Cup to early season pace setters Hartlepool United.

However, life isn’t always that simple and our own poor performance losing at home to Darlington on Tuesday night will not be helping the Saddlers’ cause any. Neither will the team news.

Rhys Weston should still be missing with his injury, but that will be partly countered by Roberts likely to have got over his calf strain and Paul Boertien, hopefully, being fit again.

In midfield, there is a chance that Dwayne Mattis, missed so badly so far, may return and Marco Reich will be pushing for a start as he starts to reach match fitness.

Up front, Mullen has real problems. Jabo Iberhe will start, but the big decision will be who replaces the suspended Michael Ricketts. Demontagnac, Deeney and Nicholls will all be in the running.

If Mattis is fit, he’ll find a couple of familiar faces on the other side, as Scunny have signed midfielder Sam Togwell permanently and goalkeeper Sam Slowcombe on loan from Barnsley this week. They will also be parading another new signing in Huddersfield defender David Mirfin, who joined for 150,000 earlier this week, but wasn’t eligible to play in the Cup tie.

Main dangerman is likely to be Jonathan Forte, who we have met before while on loan from Sheffield United at Doncaster and Rotherham.

Predictions?

No messing about allowed. With Scunthorpe having lost their first two games and having to come to terms with life in the lower reaches, anything less than a home win will be, quite frankly, unacceptable, if we have pretensions of the top half of the table this season.

Darlington – Reflections

Neil @ 9:56 am Wednesday 13 August 2008

Saddlers fans were brought firmly back to earth last night, as the team deservedly crashed out of the League Cup to Darlington, from the Division below.

At lot of focus will be on Michael Ricketts, following his first half dismissal, but there was a lot more to worry about than that in what was a disappointingly tactically naïve performance.

The central midfield did not perform on the night, to the extent that no one got in front of the strikers at all. The combination of Taundry and Hughes looks overly defensive and, even before the sending off, we were, in effect, playing with nine men, as neither winger got a pass all night. The very odd occasion they got some quality possession, we did look threatening. In the absence of Mattis, I’m sure Bradley would have been a far better option to play alongside Hughes.

Equally, both Sansara and Palmer looked defensively suspect and were given a torrid time by a lively Darlington attack. The main problem in defence, however, was the poor performance from new signing Roberts, who lost his man as early as the first minute (Ince producing a decent save) and then proceeded to do it four or five more time in the first half, including being way off his man when they scored the equaliser (although Sansara, skinned for the cross, and Palmer, easily beaten by the winger for the knock back, were also to blame).

Roberts topped his performance by limping off in the second half, with Manny Smith coming on in his stead.

Iberhe, Ince and Gerrard were all outstanding, the number nine providing our only attacking threat, and the other two dealing well with the crosses coming into the box.

The other problem, however, was the way we dealt with the sending off. At half time, the lack of possession we were giving the two wingers was an obvious weakness. It was crying out for a change to be made to a 4 3 2, or a 4 3 1 1, with either Reich or Demontagnac coming on to try and link up with Iberhe and, possibly, Bradley to play in midfield. Instead, we carried on the same way until Darlington took the lead, by which time we were chasing the game and, despite throwing players forward towards the end, we still did not create enough quality in the last third.

No, I know we are missing Weston, Boertien, Mattis and, now, Ricketts from out first choice line up, but we have to get performances like this out of our system quickly and the need for some experienced central defensive cover and, most importantly, someone who knows where the back of the net is was thrown into sharp relief.

Walsall 1-2 Darlington: Elbows, Water Bottles and Words

Exile @ 1:21 am Wednesday 13 August 2008

This isn’t quite a match report, as I didn’t see the game, but piecing together bits and pieces from around the traps, aided and abetted by Mick Kearns’ unique brand of match commentary the game went something like this.

We were looking for a bright start, but soon realised that Darlington had turned up to play some football, rather than the standard league Two ‘Hoof’ brand to which we’d become accustomed. As a result, it was Ince tested first as a keeper rather than his opposite number, Brown. Within ten minutes Proudlock (twice) and Purdie were through on goal, forcing saves, and it was against the run of play that Ricketts headed home from a Palmer free kick.

For the next twenty or so minutes the game was more open, with some neat attacking football from both sides, Ricketts missing a sitter at one end from a Taundry rebound, and Poole and Griffin combining on the wings to give the Walsall full backs a torrid time. It was perhaps inevitable when Kennedy hit the equaliser when teed up by Griffin.

On 36 minutes Ricketts was heading for the tunnel, instead of the goal, his misplaced elbow being the cause of his instant red card from ‘referee’ Darren Drysdale. Whilst nobody appears to contest this decision, and appreciating that the Banks’s's’s Stadium is a far cry from last season’s FA Cup Final where he assisted, Drysdale could certainly have asserted more control from start to finish, as he’d patently lost the plot by the end.

Half time came and went, not sure what performance was put on by Stafflers, or whether it was open mic night.

Second half, all uphill, some end-to-end stuff, with, inevitably, Darlington’s extra man counting against Walsall. The defence was undone shortly after Manny Smith replaced Roberts (another injury?), when Clarke took two attempts to bury the ball in the net. The resulting Darlo bench celebration saw a water bottle hitting one of the Saddlers faithful in the OAP stand, and some sharp comments were made to the stewards, who took the stance that as it wasn’t one of the crowd chucking it, they didn’t have to do anything.

Zaaboub was immediately replaced by Reich, and ten minutes later Jimmy Mullen gambled on a 342 formation, throwing on Deeney up front and sacrificing Sansara, who’d not had the best of home debuts.

All for nothing. The last throw of the dice saw Ince in the outfield, but several chances went begging for the sake of good finishing, and we were lucky at our end of the pitch too. A couple of the fans, sensing perhaps that this season was one to ‘concentrate on the league’, made their frustrations plain, as Gerrard, then Deeney copped abuse from sections of the crowd. Gerrard managed a late yellow for himself following an incident after the final whistle, while Deeney had to be dragged down the tunnel to prevent him from defending his reputation in a rather physical manner.

A disappointing exit from a disappointing competition in a disappointing game. Onwards and upwards should be the watchwords – this squad came together late compared to many, we’re still short of our best eleven (and will be for at least three more games thanks to Ricketts) and still lacking a little in match fitness. Excuses aren’t needed yet – encouragement is.

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