Archive for December, 2008

2008 – the year in review

Exile @ 8:00 pm Tuesday 30 December 2008

January – the sale of Fox in the transfer window was bad enough, but to double the pain by dropping Dann off at Coventry in the last hour was shocking news. That piece of ‘business’ killed our season, and killed Money’s interest in our club.

February – the ongoing saga of Ricketts dominated, with contract negotiations failing. This was also the month Roy Whalley told a focus group meeting that getting into the Championship for 2009/2010 was a top priority for the club due to the new TV deal.

March/April – results drop off, our promotion campaign goes into a tailspin, and Money resigns, shortly after making public comments (since repeated in the North East) about his expectations not being met by the club.

May – the search for a new manager is ongoing. There’s many applications, up to five serious contenders, but only one man for the job. Jimmy Mullen. Unfortunately David Kelly turned the club down on learning he’d have to work with Mullen as his number 2 if he took the manager’s position. Bonser does his 20th anniversary interview for the Express & Star, resulting in the infamous “and why shouldn’t I?” quip. Other comments from Bonser’s press offensive include the “go and support Luton, Bournemouth or Rotherham” broadside.

June/July – despite the obvious deficiencies we wait in vain for a new centre half and quality central midfielder. In fact, we wait in vain for a squad to be assembled at all, contrasting sharply with 12 months earlier, when preseason was underway early and the players at least fit for day one.

August – finally, a squad. To be fair, most everyone’s happy, except for the obvious deficiencies in cover at the back and in midfield. Gerrard’s transfer request was a surprise, but this time Bonser didn’t cash in. Cup disaster at the hands of Darlington didn’t help, and as early as this it was commented that Palmer isn’t League One standard.

September – the Supporters’ trust gets in on the act, as the three leading board members all tender their resignations in the face of increasing apathy (is that possible?). Poor performances and mixed results on the pitch make for fan rumblings.

October – For the first time Mullen had his full squad available for a game. It resulted in the shambolic Hartlepool match and his tactical awareness came under increasing criticism. To be fair he was redeemed at Leicester, although Leeds took the gloss off. There’s increasing calls to use the loan market for centre half cover and some midfield depth.

November – Ishy sacked. ‘nuff said. We enter the loan market, still short of defensive cover and a midfielder, and get a spare keeper. Mullen reckons he’s rung everyone in the country but nobody wants to talk to him. Wonder why. MK Dons turn up and ruin the family day, although Mullen did a good job of doing that on his own, sending out a 451 at home with no left-footed players. An ugly win at Colchester provides the points for the month.

December – calls reach a crescendo – Mullen out, they say. We agree. 2008 has been a shambles. Can we hope for a happier New Year?

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Tranmere 2-1 Walsall

Exile @ 8:24 pm Sunday 28 December 2008

Another last-minute goal, another defeat. Four out of the last six games have now been a last-minute disaster, with defeat being snatched from the jaws of drawdom. Those extra points would see us 10th, on 35 points, rather than 12th on 31. More importantly we’d only be 3 points off the playoffs, not 10, and Tranmere would be level with us and Huddersfield behind.

As masters of our own destiny we’re making a poor fist of it, and the buck has to stop with the manager’s tactical awareness, or lack of it. If Mullen cannot see what needs to be done, perhaps Schofield could speak up, although I imagine if he looked in Mullen’s ear he’d see the daylight from the other side.

WFC Rob was at the game, and this is how he saw it:

Just got back.
I’m really fed up of this now. There’s a complete lack of direction amongst the players on the pitch and the manager takes responsibility for nothing.
Had Mullen taken a player off and wasted 20 seconds, we’d have had a point in the bag. Deeney struggled as usual and took a knock too, so would have been the ideal candidate to be replaced. No such luck.

In terms of the team’s performance, we were much like we have been for the last couple of games. We worked hard and were committed, but there’s a distinct lack of ability in the side.
To start with the positives, Gerrard and Weston looked good once again, Taundry battled hard alongside Mattis, and Jabo worked his socks off, mostly to good effect. Reich used the ball well when he got it, but didn’t suit the hoof-ball the likes of Palmer seem to be pre-programmed to play every single time they get the ball.
The rest of the side were just poor.
Sansara in particular had a shocker. Shuker gave him the run around all afternoon. Nicholls laziness in defending didn’t help his team-mate, so it was no surprise to see the cross for the winner come from that side of the pitch.
Deeney’s footballer disguise has worn off now. He just looks like a bricklayer who has won a competition to play for a League One football club. He can’t pass and can’t run with the ball. Oddly, his only contribution to the game was a header to Jabo in the build up to the penalty. That was all.
Palmer is so weak it’s unbelievable. He can’t pass either, and resorts to long ball after long ball for Jabo to chase/jump for.

I’m starting to feel like I support a charity rather than a football team. Not only do we gift points to clubs who don’t have to work that hard for them, but we also give jobs to footballers who would otherwise be on the scrap heap.

I was sat in front of the Gerrard clan at the game today, and they seemed just as frustrated as I was. “It happens far too often” was said as the winning goal hit the back of the net, and that was exactly right.

Having heard Mullen’s interview, I’m even more annoyed than I was at the final whistle. He takes responsibility for nothing. No wonder the players play without any sort of style – they’re obviously given no direction by their manager. If we had a team of experienced professionals, we’d probably be able to get away with that, but the bare bones we have got need to be guided. That’s just not happening. Mullen out.

Walsall 1-0 Stockport

Exile @ 11:44 pm Friday 26 December 2008

You’ll have to put up with me for the match report this week as everyone else is enjoying their holibobs, and some site users prefer speed over accuracy. So, it’s a Saddlersworld match report – the game as seen through the eyes of Mick Kearns, when he wasn’t talking about anything else that is, which would be most of the time. Only joking Mick – your digressions make our commentary unique.

The Saddlers started brightly but were quickly squashed by a confident Stockport. It would appear that Stockport’s 4-2-3-1 formation caused the midfield a lot of problems , as for most of the first half we were conceding possession too quickly and not winning much midfield ball at all. The threat from Stockport’s lone man up front, Craig Davies was apparent from the off, and he was augmented by two of the forward trio of midfielders, Pilkington and Blizzard, whose names were most frequently mentioned in the commentary.

Bradley’s removal after only 25 minutes brought on Sansara, and this may have unsettled Walsall in the first half. We may have respected our opposition’s record too much; for their apparently excellent away performance history, it appeared that Stockport were having an off day, losing possession themselves, and failing to offer too much threat. Those chances that did come their way were dealt with ably by Ince and the four in front of him. “Here come Stockport again” was a common theme in the first 45 minutes, but both teams went in at half time scoreless, although Walsall were three ahead in the referee’s book, with Weston, Mattis and Ricketts finding themselves the objects of his desires.

Mullen must’ve put bromide in Stockport’s tea as the second half belonged much more to Walsall. That or he told our lads that they were there for the taking. A fine set piece goal (Palmer’s corner) from Weston, his first for the club, saw the Super Saddlers go 1-0 up just after the hour mark, or about 5.25 this morning for me. The ref decided that eleven men was too many for Stockport to handle so found an excuse to book Ricketts again and send him off – two more games out for our hotshot forward.

The crowd (5,496, with 1,082 from Stockport) started getting behind the lads a bit more, at least we could hear them on Saddlersworld, which is rare these days! The support, thought Mick, was translating into more determination on the pitch. I’m also inclined to believe that an obviously biased referee has the same effect on a collection of professional players, as they had much more purpose.

Despite the numerical advantage, Stockport continued to concede possession and some fine shots from half the squad peppered fon Williams’ goal. Special mentions to Sansara, who’d have had goal of the season from 40 yards if his audacious attempt had found the net, and Deeney, who had a golden opportunity to double our advantage but put it wide from point blank range. Deeney made way for Reich’s cameo late in the game. God knows what that was for.

Only in the last ten minutes of the half did Stockport put some concerted pressure on Walsall, with a succession of shots and corners, but it would appear they’d not be able to score even if we’d played till New Year. Such was Walsall’s luck today.

There’s some eyewitness comments on the match thread, so feel free to join in and contribute to the debate on the messageboards topic here.

A last special mention to Jon Moss. You were awful. A bias as painfully apparent as yours deserves being reported. You’re a disgrace. Thankfully Walsall didn’t lose the points you obviously thought we deserved to. May your Boxing Day turkey curry go right through you.

Walsall vs Stockport County Preview

Neil @ 2:17 pm Wednesday 24 December 2008

Stockport County on Boxing Day. Now there’s a fixture to bring the crowds flocking back to the Banks’s! Still, it’s all we have got, so we need to make the best of it.

Mullen is calling the next three fixtures (Stockport at home, Tranmere and Carlisle away) as being crucial to our season. I think he’s being a little optimistic there, as I’d have thought the season was as good as over all ready. There has still been a lot of talk about the only being nine points off the playoffs, but the reality of that is that we would need to win one more game than Hartlepool and Northampton, two more than Huddersfield, Leeds and Tranmere and, thanks to our poor goal difference, four more than two out of Peterboro, Oldham and Stockport before the end of the season. That’s four more wins in just 25 games than three teams who have only lost four games all season so far! That’s not just promotion form required, it’s Championship form.

Mullen does also have injury problems ahead of the game. Hughes and Roberts will both still be missing (and will be for another two or three weeks at least), while Jabo Iberhe looks very doubtful and is, according to Sky Sports, being sent for a scan on his thigh injury. That could let Deeney or Nicholls go up front and either Reich or Zaaboub come in on the left flank, but that’s hoping for some sanity from the Manager! I’d go with:

Ince, Palmer, Weston, Gerrard, Boertien, Deeney, Bradley, Mattis, Zaaboub, Ricketts, Nicholls, but I think we’ll likely get an unchanged team, with Taundry and Nicholls on the flanks and Deeney up frony.
Stockport boss Jim Gannon will check on the fitness of midfield duo Jason Taylor and Leon McSweeney ahead of the trip. The pair missed Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Bristol Rovers due to feeling the effects of a virus but both men could be in contention to face the Saddlers.
Gannon will again be without defender Michael Raynes, who remains sidelined due to a hamstring injury and striker Matty McNeil is still recovering from the back injury that he sustained a recurrence of during the warm-up before the recent FA Cup defeat to Gillingham but could come back into contention to face Walsall or Leeds at home on Sunday.
Their dangerman seems to be the inform Oldham loanee, Craig Davies, who hit a hat trick against Bristol Rovers last time out. He is their leading scorer this season.

Predictions?

Stockport have the equal best away record in the Division, with only Leicester as good. They have lost just one and drawn three on their travels, scoring 18 goals and conceding just 8 in the process, while we have lost five times at home in the league. This one just doesn’t look very good on paper, does it? Mind you, they do play this game on grass.

Most importantly of all, of course, Happy Christmas to everyone!

Cheltenham 0 Walsall 0

roger6 @ 2:02 pm Sunday 21 December 2008

A point at Cheltenham yesterday for the Saddlers to start the Christmas programme. With supporters unrest increasing, Kiwi Saddler reflects on the game via the message board:

Interesting comparision today with the game in the Mickey Mouse cup two months ago. On that occasion we worked hard and had sufficient quality to overcome poor opponents. Cheltenham hadn’t improved but we lacked both motivation and a coherent game plan. Bradley and Ricketts sporadically showed their ability but Ricketts was largely isolated up front and needed more support. Deeney is not a wide player, although his confidence won’t have been helped by some of the abuse from the crowd.

Such abuse, whether aimed at players, manager or chairman and whether justified or not will never help us win football games. All it does is further damage individual and team morale. Can we not support the players wholeheartedly for ninety minutes and vent our frustration at the final whistle?

It seems pointless to hurl abuse at Mullen as, we all know, that Bonser will not remove him unless we a) fall into the relegation zone or b) he finds a way of doing so without having to pay up the contract. I don’t think Mullen is as bad as Merson, a comparison with Kenny Hibbitt is more apt and remember that Hibbitt was given four years, in a lower division.

Normally I would be satisfied with our points tally from away games at this stage of the season but, given our inability to win at home, the concern is that we are falling into a relegation battle

Cheltenham Town vs Walsall

Neil @ 2:03 pm Friday 19 December 2008

It’s hard to think of football being played in Cheltenham. I mean, I’d have thought it was far too working class a game for the genteel residents of the Spa town. They probably think it’s far too much that they have to put up with an invasion by several thousand drunken Irishmen every March, never mind having to put up with several hundred oiks from the “Black Country”. Nevermind, they’ll have to suffer, won’t they?

Mind you, I’m begging to wonder how many will turn up and whether the away support will start to drift away in the same way as the home fans already have, especially after another pathetic home display last week. This weekend might turn out to be crucial in the history of the football club. Another defeat and that bit closer to the relegation zone and the management, if they really meant that they were looking for promotion this season, to take advantage of the new TV deal, will have to act and Mullen might well go. Of course, it might be that they aren’t bothered about a promotion drive at all!

Mullen has been getting his excuses in early. The BBC have been reporting that a flu virus has been through the squad, leaving “as few as 12 players available for training”. What we do know for certain, however, is that Stephen “Sicknote” Roberts and Captain Stephen Hughes will both be missing for three weeks or so with their injuries. Last week’s game against Millwall seems to suggest that Mullen doesn’t trust his only back up centre back, Manny Smith, so I’d expected Weston to continue in the middle and the hapless Chris Palmer at right back. Whether he sees fit to bring back Boertien for Sansara is anyone’s guess, as is the make up of the rest, although I’d guess (fitness permitting) at:

Ince, Palmer, Weston, Gerrard, Boertien, Deeney, Taundry, Bradley, Nicholls, Iberhe, Ricketts.

For the opposition, Captain John Finnigan faces a late check after missing the 2-1 win at Orient with ankle ligament problems. Striker Ashley Vincent serves a one-match ban but midfielder David Bird has recovered from a groin strain.

New Manager Martin Allen has been using the loan system to try and get Cheltenham out of trouble, so there will be some familiar names: the dangerous Scott Murray (M) from Bristol City, Drissa Diallo (D) from MK Dons, Ian Westlake (M) from Leeds and Barry Hayles (F) from Leicester amongst them.

Predictions?

We’ve won there once this season already, of course, in the Paint Pot Trophy, but that was a close run thing and they’ve improved since (and we’ve got worse). It’s difficult to see any rational result other than a home win, although we can but hope!

Club Shop Xmas Offer!

Exile @ 4:29 am Thursday 18 December 2008

If you spend more than 50 squids in the club shop (not online!) you can take advantage of their special seasonal offers, more offers with more money, so if you’re looking to buy anything Walsall for friends and family, and do it soon (I don’t know when this expires) don’t forget to spend up large for the specials, which include tickets for the smokers’ game, B&H Albion, or Hereford, for a fiver, or extra gifts from the shop such as a bear, football or cushion.

Full details on the official site right here!

Support our club for tangible rewards!

I’ve taken the guts of this from the official site, and hope they don’t mind my paraphrasing in support of their seasonal campaign – if there’s a problem PM me on the site and we’ll retract the lot.

Time’s Up Jimmy

Neil @ 10:48 am Sunday 14 December 2008

It’s getting so you can write the same match report every week. Strange selections, no width, no proper fullbacks, a propensity to try and play everything down the middle, a lack of communication between the players and and a complete lack of organisation at the back, to which we have now added conceding a late winning goal. The players are arguing amongst themselves (witness Gerrard having a real go at Ince for not coming to collect a ball he would never actually have got to). In the middle of all that, on the rare occasions we got some decent possession to the strikers, we looked threatening, giving Mullen the excuse to come out with the post match comments about playing well, when we clearly were not. What’s worse, we have some promising youngsters who are thrown into the deep end of this shambles and will be having their confidence shattered.

Whatever the arguments about the Chairman’s part in all of this, this season is slowly turning into a OBC (Over Before Christmas) and the Manager is worsening that position. Sorry, but he’s got to go.

Walsall 1-2 Millwall

Exile @ 9:29 pm Saturday 13 December 2008

Another last minute goal brings Walsall down in at the death of a game.

Pedagogue offered his honest opinion on the messageboard.

More scathing than any words that could be written here are the ever-dwindling crowds at the stadium.

Since the start of October this team has, in all competitions, won four times, drawn twice, and lost NINE TIMES. Unacceptable.

Walsall vs Millwall Preview

Neil @ 2:16 pm Friday 12 December 2008

“Everybody hates us and we don’t care”. Oh, hang on a minute, they can’t really sing that at Millwall any more, can they? Not when there’s a team about to hate even more, like Leeds United!

Millwall. What a place that is. Strangely enough, though, I do miss the old Den. Cold Blow Lane was a place that certainly live up to it’s name, in desolation terms, as it was like being in the middle of Beirut. The New Den, in contrast, always seems a little soulless to me, just as the Banks’s does, in comparison with Fellows Park. That’s what twenty odd years of progress and all seater stadia have bought us, I suppose. Comfortable sets and better toilets, but a lack of atmosphere compared to the old terraces.

As far as the Saddlers are concerned, it’s a matter of seeing where Mullen’s dice fall this week. Despite not changing a winning side before, he decided to for last week’s trip to Huddersfield and promptly, with the help of a strange substitution decision, lost the game. Perhaps he might have finally learned the wisdom of playing two actual full backs at full back? Somehow, I tend to doubt it. Chris Palmer’s run in the team is likely to continue!

Clayton Ince is fit to return, according to all reports, but the rumours are that Stephen Hughes will be missing. Taundry, over his knock, will be one possible replacement.

Personally, I’d go with Ince, Weston, Roberts, Gerrard, Boertien, Nicholls, Mattis, Taundry, Zaaboub (or Reich), Iberhe, Ricketts, but we all know the starting line up rarely seems to follow any common sense.

Millwall are without midfielder Nadjim Adbou (suspended) and have a doubt over fellow midfielder Dave Martin. Martin has suffered a shoulder injury so Manchester City loanee Karl Moore is likely to step in if he misses out.

Dangermen for the Lions are Leeds loanee Tresor Kandol, who is in such good form (8 goals this season) that Leeds want him back, but can’t have him under the terms of the agreement, and old acquaintance Neil Harris, back at the club where he made his name. They also have Lewis Grabban on 7 goals and Gary Alexander on 6, so there is plenty all round threat.

Predictions?

Millwall go into this one in second place in the table, threatening to get back into the tier above. That League position is based on their home form, where they have won 8. drawn 1 and lost 1, but the also have four away wins and a couple of draws away from the New Den.

I think this one will be close, but everything will depend on our starting eleven and the substitutions. Our strongest eleven should be good enough for a win, but . . . . .

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