"A banner with the strange device, Excelsior"
Over the years, Walsall supporters have grown accustomed to experiencing emotions of all shades - the highs of top of the league finishes, winning against Manchester Utd, Newcastle Utd, all of our local rivals, and the lows of relegation and being 2nd best to the likes of Slough Town. One season back in the 1960’s was particularly memorable in that respect - we were undefeated at home in the league (Played 23, Won 19, Drew 4) yet lost at home in the F A Cup to non-league Yeovil Town. However, surely no individual season can compete with the current one for sheer inconsistency - how is it that the same squad (and virtually the same 11 players) can perform so heroically against money-bags Sunderland, whilst at the same time playing two games against apparent no-hopers in Bradford City and Bristol Rovers, losing both and shipping 7 goals into the bargain?
Taking that a stage further, in the hope that our best performances are reserved for games against high flying opposition (Sunderland, Barnsley, Peterborough) we welcome the Hatters of Luton Town, who are currently on a run of 7 straight wins in League One and occupy 2nd place in the table. Their first 3 matches of the season yielded a solitary point, putting them down among the dead men of League One, but a remarkable turnaround now shows them as League One’s leading scorers with 47 goals (we have 25) - and it’s not down to any individual either, they have Elliot Lee with 10 goals, James Collins with 9, and Harry Cornick with 7. They are the form team of League One (by a country mile) … current form:-
24 Nov Gillingham (A) Won 1-3
27 Nov Bradford City (H) Won 4-0
8 Dec Fleetwood Town (H) Won 2-0
15 Dec Coventry City (A) Won 1-2
22 Dec Burton Albion (H) Won 2-0
26 Dec Scunthorpe United (A) Won 0-2
Dean Keates would appear to have something of a mountain to climb in terms of motivation (and, possibly, selection) for this game. It has often been accepted that Walsall players may well have deficits in terms of technical ability, but much of that was compensated by the pride in wearing the shirt, by attitude and sheer effort, and it therefore hurts all the more when players appear to be lacking even those aspects. How often have we seen Walsall players coming off distinctly second best when going for the ball in 50/50 situations? Why do certain players appear to think that tracking back to help a beleaguered defence isn’t worth the effort? And what has happened to the Walsall team that was comfortably in the play-off zone after 9 games, yet 15 games later we are in 14th place and sliding inexorably downwards? Even Keates is on record as saying that we are on the verge of being in a relegation battle.
There are some positives (if you look hard enough) - Joe Edwards is probably ready for a start, having played most of the 2nd half against Bristol Rovers. George Dobson is back to match fitness and is perhaps ready to contribute to a real ‘man-of-the-match’ award, rather than the ‘ersatz’ one he got on Boxing Day. And after the strange wing tactics that were employed against Bristol Rovers hopefully lessons have been learned…
Prediction? On current form anything other than a defeat would be something of an achievement. Luton Town’s goalscoring prowess would seem to completely rule out a clean sheet (what’s a clean sheet, anyway?), so in a spirit of boundless optimism let’s go for a 1-1 draw, with an Albert McPherson piledriver to save the day for the Saddlers.