Archive for February, 2010

Southampton vs Walsall Preview

Neil @ 12:57 pm Friday 26 February 2010

It’s a chance for many fans to cross another ground off the list of away venues tomorrow, with the Saddler’s first ever visit to the St Mary’s. The question has to be, however, which Walsall team will turn up?

It didn’t take long for the euphoria surrounding the Leeds win to evaporate. There was, first of all, the welcome three points, but poor show, at home to Brentford, immediately followed by the terrible performance against Yeovil and yet another home defeat. The nature of the football has been poor and the crowds disappearing fast. It does have to be said, however, that we are doing better away from the Banks’s, where Hutchings’ seeming inability to play anything other than two strict banks of four and the general lack of creativity doesn’t matter so much, as we are not having to try and break teams down. Against that, the away trip is to the home of the best footballing side I have seen this season so far, one which gave us a proper lesson at home. I don’t think we can afford to give possession away as often and as cheaply as we did in either the Yeovil or Brentford games.

On top of all that, Hutchings will have some choices to make. Ince’s booboo on Tuesday hasn’t been the first recently and Gilmartin will be eager to get a chance. Of the injuries, Weston and Westlake have returned to training and Vincent should be over his ankle knock from Tuesday. That means that, for the first time for a while, Hutchings will have all of his first choice defenders and their standins available. It’s going to be a difficult balancing act deciding what action to take, if any.

In the middle of the park, Mattis and Till are still missing and we will be hoping for a return for Jones, although there was no sign of him on Tuesday. Nicholls will, in the absence of Till and Jones, continue on the wing, unless Hutchings decides to go for a wingless approach (or unless Jones returns), in order to use his pace up front, but I think that’s unlikely. He will also be pondering whether to recall Bradley after O’Keefe’s ineffective outing against Yeovil.

Up front, Parkin is still out, so there’s likely to be no change, unless Nicholls moves up there.

As for Southampton, they will welcome back impressive French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin from a knee injury. Defender Dan Seaborne (knee) is also back in contention, but Lloyd James and David Connolly (both ankle) are still a fortnight away from a return, so we will only be facing one of their potent usual strikeforce, in the not inconsiderable shape of Lambert.

Predictions?

Southampton go into this game five points behind us, but with two games in hand. Manager Alan Pardew is refusing to write off their play off chances, despite starting the season with that points deduction. Their home record is won 7, drawn 4 and lost 2, scoring 25 and conceding 13 in the process. A daunting prospect, then, despite our more than reasonable away record. I think I’ll have to go for a home win.

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Walsall 0-1 Yeovil

Exile @ 10:42 pm Tuesday 23 February 2010

A performance barely worthy of the name ‘football’ saw Walsall slump to a dismal 0-1 defeat at home to previously lowly Yeovil. The game never got going for the Saddlers, or the pitiful 2,929 hardy souls who turned out tonight.

The club official website’s headline “Snow joke as Saddlers slip” was an amusing diversion for a moment, until one realises the importance of this atrocious result. While the season was never going anywhere even before the match, it appears that the players and management have no concept of playing for pride, no concept of entertainment, no concept of tactics and no concept of winning a game at home.

This clueless approach leads one to wonder at the victories we have achieved in this campaign – have we actually put any tactical plan into action, or are these just the result of blind chance in the league of averageness?

One certain fact: Crowds of under 3,000 will become the norm down Bescot Crescent if things do not change. That prospect should fill the fans, the club and the owner with dread.

wednesburysaddler summed up the game with this masterful post on the match thread:

gutless spineless rubbish crud waste of time bunch of puddings with the worst tactician of a manager ive ever seen

My “Proud To Be A Saddler” coffee mug will remain at the back of the cupboard until such time as I feel I agree with the sentiment it expresses. I’m ashamed.

Walsall vs Yeovil Town Preview

Neil @ 4:21 pm Monday 22 February 2010

For a club with a proud record of giant killing exploits in the two Cup competitions, such as ours, there’s nothing quite as bad as being on the other end of one of “those” results (Slough, anyone?). That makes the otherwise inoffensive Yeovil Town one of my pet hates, as they’ve done it to us twice. We lost to them in the Cup as a non league side in 1960/61 of all seasons, when it was our only defeat at Fellows Park, I believe. The other game I always remember, is losing to them after extra time in the most boring god awful game of football in an FA Cup replay in the nineties. I was sitting in what is now the family stand, freezing to death, on a night which was so cold, it mad Scott of the Antarctic’s exploits look like a sunbathing trip. The game was so awful, in fact, Mike Cecere looked easily the best player on the pitch! All of that means I always hope we stuff ‘em.

Chris Hutchings has got some problems ahead of the game, as the team go for their third win on the bounce and, hopefully, a better performance than of late. Weston is still missing and his replacement, Westlake, had to be substituted on Saturday with an injury. Mattis was carried off and will be missing for two to three weeks at least, while Parkin is also still injured. He didn’t take the risk of bringing Jones on against Brentford, so that makes me think he’d like to give him longer before risking him from the start. I think we’ll see the team that finished on Saturday:

Ince, Smith, MacDonald, Vincent, Richards, Nicholls, Bradley, Taundry, Gray, Deeney, Byfield.

Yeovil are likely to be boosted by the return of their on-loan Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason ahead of the game. The Spurs youngster has been sidelined by a knee injury and missed Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Charlton and the 1-0 home loss by Colchester as a result.

Glovers boss Terry Skiverton said: “I think Ryan might be ready to return. He’s getting over a slight knock but he’s someone who would be a great addition to the squad.”

Skiverton is also able to call on fit-again Jean-Paul Kalala and Gavin Tomlin.
The pair were ruled out of the defeat by Colchester but, as anticipated, returned to Town’s squad on Saturday and were both introduced as second-half substitutes.

Predictions?

Yeovil go into this game in fifteenth place, just four points clear of the relegation zone and eight points behind us, so they could do with some results. Their away record, of won 2, drawn 5, lost 9, however, suggests that not many of those results are likely to come away from Huish Park, as they’ve scored 14 goals in those 16 games, conceding 26. This really, really should be a home win.

Walsall vs Brentford Report

Neil @ 9:46 am Sunday 21 February 2010

It was another mind numbingly boring afternoon at the Banks’s, as we mustered just three shots on target, but, fortunately, this time two went in. giving a home victory at last!

WFC Rob gives this week’s match report and, to be honest, I have to agree with almost everything in it. Personally, I’d have given Man of the Match to MacDonald, as he was the only player who didn’t make any mistakes (Vincent may have pushed him close, if he hadn’t have misjudged the cross for the goal).

I think Brentford also deserve some credit for at least rying to play some football on the puidding of a pitch.

Good win today in the sort of game we’re used to losing. The pitch was difficult and Brentford were typically tough to play against.

I think Hutchings called it well after the game when he said that we were just too lethargic in the first half. Every pass was made to look like the most difficult of chores and the ball ended up in the stands far too often. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as saying they deserved to take the lead, they had shown marginally more intent to get the ball down and play than us, so their opening goal didn’t come as too much of a shock. I think Vincent made a bit of a hash of things – no striker should be given the time to chest the ball down that close to goal.
The one moment of reasonable quality in the first half from our point of view produced our goal. A turn of pace by Westlake left his marker on his backside, Byfield made the right run, held the ball up well and put it on a plate for Nicholls to finish well. It was nothing too difficult, but was perhaps the only bit of quality shown by us in the first half.

The one thing we changed in the second half was our tempo. Taundry got himself on the ball a bit more, and we kept the ball well down the left at times. It was disappointing to see Byfield squander two good chances by over-doing things inside the box, but the previously erratic Nicholls came up with another rare piece of quality to give Deeney an easy finish. What followed was a professional spell of keep-ball, which was pleasing to see even if Smith almost got himself an unecessary red card.

We’ll probably played better than that previously this season and lost, so it was good to see a hard-fought win at home, particularly now that next year’s season tickets are on sale. I thought our best performers were McDonald (who commanded the air despite his long ball game being wide of the mark), Taundry (who looked to keep things simple on a difficult pitch) and Nicholls (who came up with two rare moments of quality). Other than that, I think we’d be looking at 6 out of 10 ratings for the majority, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Walsall vs Brentford Preview

Neil @ 12:59 pm Friday 19 February 2010

It’s not often I agree with old football clichés, but Chris Hutchings is absolutely spot on when he said this week that the win on Tuesday at Elland Road means nothing if we don’t go out and get a result at home on Saturday against Brentford. The interest raised by the win at the League leaders is likely to bring more punters in on Saturday, so the pressure will be on the players to produce a performance, something which has been woefully lacking at the Banks’s at times this season, especially in the last two games, where we mustered just three shots on target.

That lack of home form is what is holding the team back at the moment. Granted the absence of any atmosphere doesn’t help, but it has to be said that the lack of a creative spark in the side leads to too much long ball football and few chances being made. The signing of Julian Gray may well address some of that particular issue, but the return of Steve Jones would also be most welcome, as his replacement, Till, has been mostly disappointing. The good news is that there is an outside chance of him figuring tomorrow.

Given Hutchings’ normal pattern, however, I don’t expect him to change a winning side, other than the possible return of Byfield for Till, with Nicholls moving to the wing (unless he is confident of Jones’s fitness, that is). That gives a probable starting XI of:

Ince, Westlake, MacDonald, Vincent, Richards, Till, Mattis, Taundry, Gray, Deeney, Nicholls.

As for Brentford, midfielder Marcus Bean has declared himself fit for the game.

The Bees “midfield general” has been sidelined since last month with a knee injury, but returned to full training this week. However, the 25-year-old admits he may have to settle for a place on the bench at the Banks’s because of the form of Kevin O’Connor and Toumani Diagouraga.

He said: “I feel a lot better. The injection worked, and I’ve been training all week with no effects. I felt I done well before I got injured, but Toumani has come in and done brilliant, so I’m not going to be knocking on the gaffer’s door just yet.” (“Done brilliant”? Will footballers ever learn to speak English correctly and find out about adverbs?).

Predictions

Brentford go into this game in mid table, just two points behind us, with a game in hand. Their away record is nothing to shout about, with 3 wins, 3 defeats and 7 draws, but we do have to remember that our home record is very poor, consisting of just 4 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats. Brentford’s difficulties are summed up by the fact that they have scored just 7 times in those 13 away games, while conceding 14. If ever a game had 1 – 0 to the home side written all over it, then this is it, but I can’t help thinking we need to show more than just a competent narrow win, if there are more fans there as a result of Tuesday night. We shall see.

A night for heroes! Leeds 1 Walsall 2

roger6 @ 8:25 am Wednesday 17 February 2010

Let’s not go overboard – it was only Leeds – but the Saddlers pulled off their result of the season last night by beating Leeds 2-1, thereby ending the Yorkshire outfit’s unbeaten home league record.

Football - Leeds United v Walsall Coca

Dwayne Mattis and Clayton McDonald got the goals – and the message board is alive with thoughts from Saddlers fans and a few other well-wishers from other teams in league one. Give your reaction after you’ve read BangSection:

Every single player (bar Till who struggled again and was replaced at HT) played their part and we refused to buckle even when Leeds had us under the cosh for most of the second half. Deeney led the line superbly and he and Nicholls chased everything. Mattis score a really good goal after good work from Gray who will do well for us this season on the evidence of tonight. McSheffrey scored a hugely jammy equaliser which I’m not sure you can blame Clayton for (I’ve just seen it on Sky Sports and the swerving flight of the ball – definitely a cross – looks a nightmare for a keeper – anyway, who cares?). We defended like lions after they pegged us back – I thought Max Gradel would rip Richards apart when he came on but our makeshift leftback stuck to his task superbly. Then we went up the other end and scored!

Let me clear one thing up – our winning goal was definitely over the line. We were right in line with it and the linesman was in a great position and gave it straight away. Again we held on simply through hard work and getting bodies in the way. A word for the supporters too – tremendous. Never stopped singing throughout the whole game – especially during the second half and after the final whistle the entire team (and Hutchings) came over to show their appreciation. What an utterly fantastic night – one where all the frustrations of supporting Walsall go out of the window and you simply revel in defying the odds and getting one over on a club with ten times the resources we have. What supporting a club like Walsall should be all about, in fact.

Leeds United vs Walsall Preview

Neil @ 9:42 am Tuesday 16 February 2010

As the season meanders along on the pitch, with little or no purpose, we inevitably seem to be getting into a cycle of one good (or at least decent) performance, followed by one abysmal one. The point was made at the Focus Meeting last night that all that achieves is leaving the fans with little or no hope of progress, just stagnation, which, in turn, contributes to the ever declining gates. That makes a trip to Elland Road even more welcome. At least the team ought to be up for this (if they aren’t, they shouldn’t be professional footballers) and, after the shocking performance at Oldham on Saturday, they should be due something better!

The Saddlers will be without the injured Parkin, Jones and Weston for this one, but Hutchings will have some other decisions to make. Hughes and Smith should be fit for the game, and, knowing Hutchings’s predilections, we might well see changes to the centre of the defence, as the “book” probably says “play your most experienced players in this type of game”. For the same reason, we may well see the return of Darren Byfield to the starting lineup, especially as Nicholls did not make the hoped for impact on being given his chance, and we may also have Julian Grey starting, although he, in theory, probably needs a couple of reserve outings to get match fit.

As for the opposition, Leeds are still sweating on the fitness of leading goalscorer Jermaine Beckford who has missed the last two games through injury.

Defender Patrick Kisnorbo once again looks set to be missing as he struggles to overcome an ankle injury and he would likely to be replaced by Michalik. The former Bolton man isn’t quite of the same class as Kisnorbo, it has to be said.

Leeds are also still without long term injured Shane Higgs and Ben Parker.

Predictions?

Leeds, since their win at Old Trafford, something which, knowing their fans, probably means they are calling themselves Champions of England, to go along with the “Champions of Europe” chant they are so fond of just because they got to the final once, have seen their form go somewhat to pieces. They have drawn at home with Wycombe, then lost away at Exeter, lost at home to Carlisle, lost heavily at Swindon, beaten Colchester at home and drawn at Hartlepool and Orient. Six points out of a possible twenty one, then and Norwich now lead them be four points. They do have two games in hand, however, and need to win them and should be up for this one. They have a home record of won 10, drawn 4, lost 0. Ooops. Home win, I’m afraid.

Oldham Athletic vs Walsall

Neil @ 9:34 am Sunday 14 February 2010

Well, they say that after the Lord Mayor’s Show comes the dustcart – well, following a good result on Tuesday, a whole fleet of the damn things turned up for the Saddlers at Boundary Park yesterday. This, according to more than one poster, was probably amongst the very worst performaces of the season (or last, under Mullen, for that matter). Moaning Old Git supplies the words this week:-

We were trully appalling, how can a team expect to win matches when we have no attack?
Our defence, or should I say McDonald on his own, was uncomfortable all game against a team that used wingers
and attacking half backs to great effect, although there finishing was abysmal, we were run ragged by a team that was one point off the relegation zone.

What could anyone who was there say anything positive about that performance today? inept.
Ince was badly at fault for the goal, waiting on the far side of his goal to collect a cross that was met point blank by
Abbott who got in front of him far too easily, which was a shame really, cus he prevented us losing by a clear 5 or 6 goals!

I think we got one corner, which was squandered, and I can remember one shot that got close to the goalmouth, sort of!
Till was atrocious, does he know which way to kick? Wendy tried hard, but is obviously lacking any quality whatsoever.
And who was that lanky streak of flap that was bought on in the second half? who the hell is Julian Gray and how come
we’ve got lumbered with THAT waste of space, I think he touched the ball twice and lost it both times!

Oldham were up for it bigtime, they lack quality, but are attempting to put that right with signings, and showed great
enthusiasm, commitment and energy, characters that we sadly lacked completely, we were just ‘not at the races’ at
all. Byfield got too involved in a ‘handbags at dawn’ squable with his ex team mates, so drifted out of the game utterly.
Barn door rushed round a lot, but he will never make a footballer if he lives to be old!

And it was friggin freezin as usual, what the hell is going to happen on Tuesday? We are going to get slaughtered,
it will be sooo humiliating! NOT A GOOD DAY to be a Walsall fan…………

Oldham Athletic vs Walsall Preview

Neil @ 8:23 am Friday 12 February 2010

A win from what seems nowhere on Tuesday night means that the table has taken on a better aspect this week. Of course, some of the signs were there, in terms of improved defensive performances, despite the disruption caused by injury, but the major difference may well be that we have been playing with a “proper” defensive midfielder, in the shape of Taundry, rather than two “generalists”, as we were with Mattis and Bradley. The lack of a creative spark still is showing, though, and the news that Jones may be returning to training is welcome, to say the least.

One swallow does not a summer make, however, and we still have two away games to negotiate this week, in the shape of Oldham and Leeds United. Strangely enough, I feel less apprehensive about the Leeds game than Saturday’s, as, if the players aren’t up for playing in front of the best part of 30,000 at Elland Road, we are in trouble.

So, off we go to the coldest ground in the football league (although Grimsby and Hartlepool can run it close). Oldham are always one of those clubs that I think we can feel some affinity with, for all that they have had a little more success over the years (three League titles, some FA Cup and League Cup success and spells in the top flight), as they also struggle with being too close to too many teams (Boundary Park is less than 9 miles from the stadiums of Bury, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Rochdale, plus Blackburn and Bolton aren’t that far away). Despite that, however, and a struggling League position, they are still averaging the best part of a thousand a game more than we are. For those at the club blaming the recession, by the way, Walsall’s unemployment rate is 5.4%, according to the DWP figures, while Oldham’s is 8.1%, the second highest rate in Greater Manchester. Food for thought there, then.

The Saddlers will be without the injured Jones and Weston, however, and Sam Parkin was also out through injury against Bristol Rovers, giving Nicholls his chance to play. Manny Smith should be available again, as should Hughes, so that will be Hutchings’s biggest selection headache, as the defence has performed so well without those two. Doubtless Darren Byfield will be eager to play against his old team.
As for Oldham, they have had a terrible time with injuries of late, something which they are using to explain their lowly league position. The emergency loan window reopened this week with Oldham boss Dave Penney trying to attract new players despite the bulk of his first-team squad returning from injury.
Penney was able to name arguably his strongest squad of the season to date for the trips to Tranmere Rovers and Swindon Town with the likes of Chris Taylor and Alex Marrow among the substitutes.
“We’re still looking for players,” Assistant Manager Gray admitted. “There’s one or two options we’re looking at and the manager has been on the phone a lot trying to sort something out in case the right player comes along. Saturday showed the value of having a good bench because we were able to bring Chris Taylor on but Alex Marrow – who has been a regular for most of the season – didn’t play. There’s one or two others who are coming back with Jon Worthington only a week or two away from coming back, which will be a big plus.”
Those efforts have bought former Preston and Norwich winger Simon Whalley in on trial, amongst others, but he hasn’t signed yet.

Predictions?

Oldham are clear of the relegation places on goal difference only. It’s a poor home record that’s keeping them there, too, having won 3, drawn 5 and lost 5 at Boundary Park. The fact that they’ve scored a mere 11 goals in those 13 games is at the heart of the problem. With our defensive record of late, we shouldn’t concede, so it ought to be a draw at the very least!

Bristol Rovers vs Walsall – Report

Neil @ 7:31 am Wednesday 10 February 2010

The erudite (look it up) Welsh Saddler provides the match report for what was a welcome win at Bristol Rovers last night, a team with an above average home record. That will have stopped the rot, with any luck, of the bad run we have been on and we now have the opportunity to consolidate for the rest of the season. It also leaves us with the strange record of now having won more games away than at home (although we have picked up one more home point), something which tends to show a lack of creativity when trying to break teams down at home.

A result like that is all the better when you go to the ground expecting absolutely nothing (as we 4 from South Wales did, in all honesty). For the first ten or fifteen minutes it looked like only a matter of time before Rovers would score; both teams had started like greyhounds out of the traps, one or two challenges were shall we say, enthusiastic, and both teams had a man booked by a referee who was keen to stamp his authority on the game. Following the two bookings there was another free kick against Walsall, and the referee called over the Walsall captain with the offending player for a reading of the riot act.

After this first quarter of an hour things settled down somewhat, and bit by bit the Saddlers established a good degree of control over the midfield. It was noticeable throughout the game that episodes of head-tennis always ended with a Walsall player managing to get the ball down on the ground and try to do something constructive with it. We began to press forward, with good moves down both flanks, and at the end of one down the left wing we were treated to a Walsall player strongly tackling back to regain possession, and fire a low cross into the box – a defender blocked it, but the ball squirted out to the centre edge of the penalty area where Taundry was steaming in. Fair play to the lad, he had the presence of mind to firmly sidefoot the ball along the ground rather than blasting it to kingdom come, and it was as sweet a strike on goal as you could expect. I have to say at this stage that I thought (and still think) that Deeney did the assist work from the left wing rather than Nicholls, but at the end of the day it’s the goal that counts. That was after 32 minutes.

Although it wasn’t a dirty game by any means, Rovers players seemed to hit the deck hard and often – they had used three substitutes by half-time, which came with the score 0-1 to the super Saddlers. Ince had only had a couple of tame shots straight at him to deal with by then, as opposed to the Rovers keeper who made one fine save to turn away a strong daisy-cutter from Nicholls for a corner, and conceded a goal as well. The hot “Cornish” pasties and Bovril went down very well during the interval, because it really was very cold!

The second half was “more of the same”… Rovers were relying on high balls up to their front men, but MacDonald’s heading strength and the covering work by all the defenders made sure that practically nothing even reached Clayton Ince. I have to mention Darryl Westlake at this point – he played a real blinder, and showed a composure on the ball commensurate with someone much older and more experienced. Everything was going so well until about 15 minutes from the end, when the Rovers right winger, instead of crossing the ball to Ince, decided to cut inside and venture into the penalty area – it only warranted the slightest contact from Vincent, and down he went and the referee pointed straight to the spot, no hesitation at all.

“Here we go” we all thought, and as the Rovers player was poised to take the kick I noticed that Ince was actually standing well behind his goal line (which worried me a little). However, he shuffled forward and either guessed or planned right, diving to his right side and palming the ball away. To his credit, the Rovers player followed up and blasted the ball towards the goal but Ince (with a better save in my book) again got his hands to the ball and put it out of harm’s way for a corner. Deep joy.

From then it was apparent that Rovers were having one of those games – they weren’t going to score, and their cause wasn’t helped by the large home following chanting “What a load of rubbish”….. it was a fellow UTS-er, grantwilliamsllb, who said “Listen, they’re singing our song!!!” Rovers had another substitution, and then we did have a few minutes of squeaky-bum time until the 3 minutes of time added on were up. We didn’t make a single substitution (so much for Hutchings’ comment about the players being tired…)

It’s very difficult to give individual match summaries, because this was a real team effort. Everyone worked their socks off, they harried and chased, and there wasn’t a noticeable weak link anywhere in the eleven. If I had to single any out, I would have to mention Clayton Ince’s penalty save….. Westlake’s polished performance (Weston won’t get a sniff if he carries on playing like this)…… Deeney and Nicholls’ workrate was phenomenal…… Richards tracking back at high speed and challenging for the smallest scraps….. MacDonald’s steadying influence at the heart of the defence reminded me of Albert McPherson of fond memories….. the number of crosses that our wingers put across (high numbers!!!) etc.

Worth mentioning as well was our ability to play football, passing it to our own players (for a change?). This was especially apparent in the last fifteen minues or so, when we played “keep-ball” in the Rovers’ half, working neat triangles – it was lovely to watch.

Having said all that, perhaps we should keep our feet on the ground…. I may have been looking at the whole game through rose-coloured spectacles, because as we trooped off to find a warm car, a lady Bristol Rovers steward used that immortal phrase to me when she said “Well, you were crud, but we were worse” !!!!!

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