Archive for December, 2009

Walsall vs Norwich City Preview

Neil @ 7:49 pm Sunday 27 December 2009

The next two games will give Saddlers fans something to measure progress against – with a vengeance. Of the out and out favourites for promotion, at home, we have lost narrowly to Leeds and been comprehensively outplayed by Southampton (I firmly believe that they would be well up amongst the favourites without their points deduction and may well yet join in the party at the end of the season, despite their defeat at Elland Road on Saturday). That game will be followed by the visit of second placed Charlton Athletic and another heavily fancied team. Again, if we have pretensions this season, we must be looking for something from these games.

The enforced rest with the game at Bristol Rovers being called off caused means that we have only one doubt for the game, albeit a very important one, as Steve Jones is struggling to recover from his groin strain in time. Assuming he doesn’t make it, I don’t see Hutchings making any changes, other then bringing back Hughes in the centre of defence following his suspension and making the choice of Sansara or Vincent for left back. I think he probably played Vincent at centre back last home game as that meant making the fewest changes, so he could well bring in the experienced man at full back with Hughes returning. I’d expect:

Ince, Weston, Smith, Hughes, Vincent, Till, Mattis, Bradley, Richards, Byfield, Deeney.

As for the opposition, Norwich manager Paul Lambert will have defender Gary Doherty back from suspension for the game. Doherty missed the 2-0 win over Millwall on Boxing Day through a one-game ban after picking up five bookings but he will return to the heart of the defence.
Fellow defender Jens Berthel Askou is still out with a foot injury and midfielder Korey Smith is also out with a thigh problem. Declan Rudd (knee), Luke Daley (thigh) and Owain Tudur Jones (groin) are all still missing.
Dangermen? Take your pick. The Canaries scored their 50th league goal against the Millwall last time out and in-form midfielder Wes Hoolahan will again play behind front two Grant Holt and Chris Martin.
The trio have scored an incredible 45 goals between them in all competitions so far this season.
Predictions?

Norwich have only failed to score in the League once this season. Have a guess who that was against? That 0 – 0 draw looks more and more like one of the very best results this season! We will have to be at our very, very best to get something from this, especially if Jones doesn’t recover from his injury, so I have to go for an away win.

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Jeff – the fans “are fantastic”

Exile @ 10:27 pm Sunday 20 December 2009

In one of his periodic forays into the local press, Uncle Jeff has admitted what we’ve known for ages – Walsall fans are fantastic. Thanks, Jeff!

Bonser went on to say that despite the crowds dropping year-on year over the last season and a bit, he’s appreciative of those that continue to come, perhaps knowing that their finances may be more precarious than those of the club in these hard times.

He continued by saying that, although the club has a diverse base of income, including the market and the entertainment outlets, these have both suffered in the recession, making fans on the gate more important than ever.

Realistically, Uncle Jeff acknowledges that the old adage about gates relating to performance holds true, and that we’re only the 21st club on the League One attendance table. Luckily our off-field revenues allow us to continue to punch above our attendance weight, although an increase in support would result directly in more money being available for players.

In a heartfelt comment, rare in public, Jeff stated that “the core business here [at Walsall FC] is football and I never lose sight of that and all the income streams are channelled that way”.

Read the interview at the Birmingham Mail, here online.

Walsall vs Leyton Orient Report

Neil @ 9:51 am Sunday 20 December 2009

The Saddlers gave just about as shocking a first half performance as you could ever wish not to see yesterday, gifting two goals thanks to some rank bad team defending and goalkeeping for the first and an awful mistake by captain for the day Dwayne Mattis for the second. That might not have been so bad, if not for the fact that we also looked completely and utterly devoid of any creative spark at all, giving their ‘keeper his easiest 45 minutes of the season.

This being Walsall, of course, we proceed to pull one back with ten seconds of the re-start and then grab a second – both after Till realised that a winger’s first job is to get a cross in, rather than keep trying to beat his marker several times before laying it back to his full back.

Unfortunately, we rather reverted to type after the second and gifted the opposition two gilt edged chances (including yet another open goal on the far, left side, post), which they fluffed completely. Orient would have been kicking themselve black and blue if Byfield had won it with a one on one chance towards the end, as they certainly deserved their point on the day.

Pedagogue, there for the cheque presentation at half time, makes a one off guest appearance as the reporter!

No doubt Nick Mashiter will be dusting off all of his “game of two halves” clichés for Monday’s Excuse & Dingle but it cannot be denied that we saw two different Walsall teams today. The names and numbers were the same throughout but the performances were chalk and cheese. In the first half, our performance was as dire as it has been in recent seasons – back to the Merscum days, in fact. I don’t know what Hutchings and O’Connor said at half-time but it had the desired effect. Perhaps they threatened to tell Santa that all the team had been naughty boys?

Ince – not at his commanding best. With Hughes missing, this is when you would expect a seasoned international player to take command – but, no, he dithered and hesitated and this uncertainty spread to his defence. Could/should have done better on their first goal – weak wrists, palming the ball out to the Orient player.
Weston – like his team-mates, he improved after the interval but his distribution is still poor.
Smith – dodgy first half, good second half
Vincent – I’m reluctant to criticise Vincent too much as I guess he hasn’t played much in central defence, recently.
Sansara – see Weston comments, above. Shows all of the classic signs of lack of confidence by having an extra (unnecessary) touch on the ball to “make sure” but, as a consequence, gets caught in possession.
Till & Richards – ideally, wide men should have pace but this is what Tilly and Wendy lack – specifically pace over the first two or three yards – a “burst” which takes a player clear of his opponent and gives him that vital advantage. If poor opponents stand off them and give them a couple of yards then both are more than capable of delivering good quality crosses. Good defenders won’t do this but today’s lot did in the second half.
Mattis & Bradley – quite how Mattis avoided being cautioned, I’ll never know. I suppose that the referee “cut him some slack” as he was captain. His hot-headed tackling will injure some-one soon. I felt sorry for both of them as the so-called off-the-ball movement of our wide players and strikers consisted of standing hiding behind opponents instead of offering themselves as targets for a pass during the first half. Matters improved considerably after the interval.
Deeney & Byfield – both worked very hard and were probably our two best players. Byfield will have nightmares about the “one-on-one” sitter that he missed, near the end.

Quite simply, we made a poor Orient team look like world-beaters in the first half but the second half performance gave a big hint of what the team is really capable – WHEN IT TRIES!

Notes to Hutchings:-
1) You are allowed to bring on substitutes, to freshen things up a bit, you know.
2) Next time, give them the half-time rollocking BEFORE the match.

Walsall vs Leyton Orient Preview

Neil @ 4:13 pm Friday 18 December 2009

Must win game tomorrow. I think I’ve lost count over the last few seasons just how often I’ve said that, but it is certainly the case, if we have play off aspirations. Two successive defeats to promotion challengers have left us in tenth spot, four points behind in form Bristol Rovers, who are in that all important sixth place, and just five points ahead of one of our recent conquerors, Southampton, who are rising like a lift at the moment. What’s worse, our next three games are away to the aforementioned Bristol Rovers and at home to high flying Charlton and Norwich. All are above us in the table, and we all know what that tends to mean this season!

The squad will, of course, be boosted by the news of Darren Byfield signing his new contract. I have always been an admirer of the flying forward and his performances this season have shown that he’s added some guile to his game as well. Another eighteen months (at least, as there is an option for an extension) can only be a good thing, and he’s certainly good enough to still be at least a squad player if we were fortunate enough to get promotion.

Hutchings does have some problems with his selection, however. There are doubts over Steve Jones’ fitness for starters. Jones has been one of the big successes this season, providing the team with some creativity, and, unfortunately, his stand in, Till, just hasn’t looked up to the mark. Nicholls, O’Keefe and Taundry are all possibilities instead of Till. Jones is struggling with the groin strain that kept him out of last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Millwall and will continue to be assessed before a final decision is made.

Troy Deeney will be back from suspension, but that’s compensated by missing captain Mark Hughes, who serves a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season last Saturday. Clayton McDonald, the natural replacement, returned to parent club Manchester City after the Millwall game, so is now unavailable. Westlake is likely to come in, then, with Weston moving to centre half. If Vincent is fit, he’ll probably replace Sansara, who has been struggling in the last couple of games

Tamika Mkandawire will return to the Leyton Orient squad for the trip.

The centre-half was forced to sit out last weekend’s defeat by MK Dons due to a one-match ban following his red card at Swindon. Mkandawire is expected to go straight back into the starting line-up with youngster Luke Ashworth likely to return to the bench.

Midfielder Luke Summerfield (son of ex Saddler Kevin – doesn’t time fly?) will play his final game for the Os as his 93-day loan spell comes to an end after the match, when he will head back to Plymouth.

Boss Geraint Williams had Adam Chambers, JJ Melligan and Jason Demetriou on the bench last weekend so will not be short of midfield cover.

Young striker Loick Pires is hoping to feature after a goal for the reserves in midweek.

Predictions?

Orient go into this one in 20th place, with only the four relegation places below them. Their away record, which is of more interest as far as this game is concerned, is just 2 wins, 1 draw and 7 defeats. That’s 10 games in which they’ve scored 9 and conceded 22! It’s very difficult to call this as anything other than a needed home win, considering those difficult fixtures to come.

Byfield Signs!

Exile @ 9:32 pm Thursday 17 December 2009

Striker Darren Byfield has signed for Walsall to the end of the 2011 season (at least), according to messageboard rumour and now his own Twitter account.

Fantastic news for the Saddlers and their fans.

In a career going back to 1997, Byfield has played for 14 clubs, notching up more than 350 starts and scoring exactly 100 competitive goals (according to Soccerbase).

Welcome back, Daz!

WSC Up Front – Ideal Christmas Gift

roger6 @ 3:01 pm Thursday 17 December 2009

The good people at When Saturday Comes have released a book that makes an ideal Christmas present for Saddlers looking for a last minute gift. Priced at £6.99 it is available from wsc.co.uk or exclusively at WH Smith.

Up Front from WSC

The sensible way to start a magazine is to collect a few people with some of the relevant skills: writing, editing, photography, design, marketing, accounts. When Saturday Comes did not begin the sensible way. Instead, we decided the crisis facing football was so deep and what we had to say so urgent that we should publish ?rst and acquire the skills later. Up Front is proof of this as it brings together nearly 100
WSC covers from 1986 to 2009. Trace a monumental period in the history of game with the help of Maxwell,
Thatcher, Venables, Pelé, Maradona and a number of mascots.

Jeff Bonser – an apology

Exile @ 10:28 pm Wednesday 16 December 2009

It seems many of us supporters have done Uncle Jeff some great disservice over the years, and now stand corrected on the strength of the great man’s interview with journalist Brian Halford in the outstanding local newspaper, the Birmingham Mail.

Apparently Jeff’s pension fund doesn’t own the freehold to the land our club stadium sits on, as it’s owned by Suffolk Life. Our humblest apologies to Mr. Bonser.

How could we have known that when the annual accounts state that rent is paid to the Trustees of the JW Bonser (Walsall) Limited Self-Adminstered Pension Scheme what was meant is that rent is paid to Suffolk Life? Sorry.

What were we to think when those same accounts tell us that one of the trustees of this Scheme is a JW Bonser but obviously meant to state that Suffolk Life owned the land? Sorry.

How could we possibly have known that, when JW Bonser bought the land but used a SIPP as a tax shelter for it, he didn’t in fact buy the land because Suffolk Life had bought it? Sorry.

When Roy Whalley recently made public overtures about Walsall Council buying the land we couldn’t possibly have thought that he was trying to sell something in which his Chairman had no financial interest as it was owned by Suffolk Life, could we? Sorry.

Our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience caused to Jeff. We must now acknowledge that we were wrong, and accept that all along, the land wasn’t owned by his pension fund, but, as he says, Suffolk Life.

Millwall vs Walsall Verdict

Neil @ 10:39 am Sunday 13 December 2009

The Saddlers went down to what seems to be turning into an almost inevitable defeat, as it was against a team from above or around us in the table!

Of the teams above or around us that we’ve played so far, we’ve lost to Leeds, lost to Charlton, drawn at Norwich, lost to Colchester, beaten Huddersfield, lost to the Dongles, lost to Millwall and drawn with Carlisle! That looks like mid table to me.

Milo5 provides this week’s report:

Just back , and no complaints about the result , the best side won.

We started well , and got the bonus of a lovely finish from Smith from Till’s well delivered corner ( and we had a PLAN from corners , as we tried the same thing again later )

I honestly thought Millwall were there for the taking at this stage , as they seemed lacking in confidence and were mis placing several passes and we were dealing with them pretty easily , apart from one moment of confusion when Ince nearly got caught out on the edge of his area .. But as the half grew on Millwall got more confident and clearly could knock it about , and played some impressive football at times. As did we in fairness , but boy did we miss Jones AND Deeney’s movement , as although Parkin worked hard , he was largely dealt with and any creativity had to come from Byfield . It would have flattered us , but Byfield had a wonderful chance to make it 2-0 after sliiping his man , and was in lots of space , one to one but hit the keeper .

2nd half was a totally different story ; Milwall just bossed it completely and had so many shots i lost count . Its hard to say where it went wrong – they definitely stepped it up and we had no answers . It really wasnt a surprise when either goal went in , the first came when one of our CH’s lost out on the edge of the box and it fell for their striker. But i am totally confused what happened for the 2nd ; it seemed as though we presumed he was off side , near the half way line and the same striker had so much time he should have scored , and did. We never looked like scoring second half .

I thought Ince did well , and could not be faulted for either goal ; Weston did ok , Hughes and Smith were excellent , Sansara looked the weakest link ( and i think was a tactical sub to bring Vincent on?)

Bradley did well enough ; Mattis did his normal gritty job but no creativity ; Till started brightly but faded ( a bit like at Colchester) and although Richards uses the ball intelligently , he wasnt in it for long periods .

Parkin struggled to make an impact but couldnt be faulted for effort ; Byfield was our obvious danger but they knew that and doubled up on him a lot , and to be honest he didnt get a lot of joy …

Subs didnt change anything.

We missed Deeney , and we missed Jones . Full marks for effort , and application and they looked gutted at the end , but bottom line is that we were outplayed by a better team

Very low turn out for the travelling Saddlers . Decent pint at London Bridge was the highlight .

Millwall vs Walsall

Neil @ 1:14 pm Friday 11 December 2009

The Saddlers were bought back to Earth with a bump last Saturday, with a defeat against Southampton at home, when, once the opposition scored, we were never in the game. Granted, the Saints have a strike force which costs a lot of money at this level (in either fees or salaries), in the shape of Lambert and Connelly, but this was still a disappointment. Some decent performances had seen us rise to the edge of the pay offs, but the fact that we seem unable to get anything from teams above us, or at our own level (forget Southampton’s league position, as that’s purely a result of their points deduction – without that they’d be up with us), means that we are in for another mid table finish. Mind you, that would be an improvement on the way we were going under Mullen, even if Hutchings’ and his records at this point aren’t too dissimilar.

For those prepared to quibble about that last statement, by the way, Hutchings has won 17, drawn 13 and lost 16, an average of 1.39 points per game, whereas Mullen had 10 wins, 5 draws and 14 defeats, an average of 1.20 points per game. By comparison, Money’s record was better than 1.60 points per game. Hutchings’ record, over a season would yield 64 points, Money’s 74 and Mullen’s 55. Unfortunately, 64 points is mid table, 74 is edge of the play offs and 55 is flirting with danger, so small are the margins in football.

So, that record against the teams above and around us has to be improved. We might never have a better chance than tomorrow at Millwall – but more of that later.

Hutchings, all things being well in training, will have a fully fit squad to choose from, a testament to the training regime at the club. The only questions are likely to be around the match fitness of Taundry and Vincent and who will replace the suspended Deeney. Vincent, if fit, is likely to return, giving Sansara’s shaky performance last week and the choice up front is likely to be Parkin or Nicholls. He might, however, just go for something a little more out of the ordinary and go 4 5 1, or 4 4 1 1 to be more accurate, with Taundry holding, or even O’Keefe coming in, and play Jones off Byfield. I, for one, would like to see Jones on the ball more and running at central defenders.

As for Millwall, boss Kenny Jackett is set to be in charge of the team after shaking off a heavy cold which kept him away from the midweek Cup victory over Staines Town. They will be without the services of James Henry (hamstring) and Chris Hackett (knee), but Dave Martin is set to return to the squad after recovering from a groin problem.

Dangermen?

Neil Harris. The name is enough to worry me! 11 goals this season so far, including two hattricks. Mind you, they may well be trembling at the thought of playing against and ex striker, in the shape of Darren Byfield!

Predictions?

I said that there’d be more about our chances later! Since the end of October, Millwall, among the promotion favourites, have been having a bit of a stutter in the League, drawing at Brentford, then losing at home to lowly Wycombe, drawing at Exeter, beating an equally stuttering MK Dons and being well beaten last time out at Hartlepool. They are never an easy proposition on their home turf, but you get the feeling that they have taken their eye off the ball while getting through their two Cup ties against non League opposition. I think we can get a point here.

Walsall vs Southampton Report

Neil @ 10:15 am Sunday 06 December 2009

This was a very evenly matched game for some of the first half – right up to the moment Sansara and Hughes were taken out by a perfectly normal straight ball down the inside left channel for Connolly to score. After that, we were comprehensively taken apart down the left flank, as the Saints identified Sansara and Richards as the weak link. Quite frankly, we were lucky it was only three.

Another disappointment was, yet again, Hutchings’s unwillingness to make any changes when it was obvious that it just wasn’t working. We had no threat down the left and Jones, starved of possession, got absolutely sweet FA from his full back all afternoon – and he even found time to score the second, with Jones failing to track back after we were torn apart down the left side of the defence yet again. At least when Hutchings did finally get round to making a substitution, it was an imaginative one, going 4 3 3, as the wingers were just not seeing the ball at all.

Oh, and Parkin looked good when he came on, – but, let’s face it, the game had been long won by then.

Saddler_nic supplies the report:-

Today just showed how tactically inept we are,and also showed how far we are from being promotion contenders. We were simply found out today. Southampton are without doubt one of the better sides in our league,the attacking options they have are frightening, but to roll over the way we did was very dissapointing.

The first ten minutes we had a bit of a go, with Deeney going close,but once the Saints got settled,we never really got a look in.We looked solid enough in defence, but one straight ball over the top completely bypassed our back four, cant take anything away from the finish though. That goal just seemed to kill our confidence and we started playing like we had a month or so a go. The second goal was equally awful,Sansara failing to follow his man (looked as though he stepped up to play offside), then a great block from Hughes fell kindly to Lambert who bundled it in.Three of our men went to close down the inital shot,which left Lambert with 10 yards of space infront of our goal.

We never really threatened,mainly due to the hoofball we played.I dont mind a long ball,as long as theres some direction to it.But every time we hit it long,it was head height at Deeney or Byfield,who are never going to win anything against someone as tall as Jaidi. Everyone else can see this isnt working,why cant Hutch and MOC?Our wide players never really got any service either,and when they did,it was continually run out of play or the quality of the cross was poor.

Second half was always going to be tough,and atleast we had a bit of a go at them,but by then it was too late.The substitution came far too late,but atleast when Parkin came on,we looked a little more dangerous,and he linked the play pretty well.You just felt though,that Southampton had a couple of exrta gears if they needed them,which they didnt.

Dissapointing with the performance,but maybe it’ll bring us back down to earth a bit.

I felt a bit sorry for Manny and Hughes who were run ragged by Lambert and Connelly,but didnt have any sort of help from either full back.

The only quibble I’d have with that is that I thought the problem was down the left defensively, where something needed to be done in the first half and where Natan Sansara went walkabout far, far too often.

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