"A troop of Oxford hunters going home,
As in old days, jovial and talking, ride!"
(‘Thyrsis’ - Matthew Arnold)
Six games until the end of this painful season, and all we really need is either 4 wins, or 3 wins and 3 draws, both performances would lift us to the 54 points mark which should be enough to preserve our League One status. Having completed a tricky series of games against the front-runners (with no reward), a game against Oxford United would seem to present a genuine opportunity for a home win - and indeed a month or so ago they looked almost dead and buried, but their recent form has lifted them to the top half of the table, 7 points ahead of us. Just take the most recent 4 games - in Walsall’s case that has meant zero points, but our opponents have picked up 10 points from their most recent 4 fixtures. They’ve only scored 4 more goals than us, but a tighter defence sees their goal difference at only -8 compared to our -21. Current League One form:-
Mar 2 Scunthorpe Utd (H) Won 2-1
Mar 9 Gillingham (A) Lost 1-0
Mar 12 Rochdale (A) Drew 0-0
Mar 16 Bradford City (H) Won 1-0
Mar 23 Coventry City (A) Won 0-1
Mar 30 Wycombe Wanderers (H) Won 2-1
Oxford United’s manager Karl Robinson has one rather unusual aspect to his career - in his playing days (1999 to 2007) he was quite a mover, playing for 12 different clubs and amassing a total of 48 appearances … but all his clubs were non-league! Management has seen him at M K Dons and Charlton Athletic before his current position, and he also reportedly turned down an offer to be Head Coach at Leeds United.
Following 4 straight defeats, what will Dean Keates come up with to turn our fortunes around? The quality of our football does not seem to have been the problem - our downfall (as in many instances this season) has been sloppy defending coupled with a lack of appreciation that the game is 90 minutes long, or even 95 minutes in some cases. Giving goals and soft penalties away in the first 10 minutes or in time added on inevitably means that a win, or even a draw, becomes unattainable. Keates’ big decision would appear to be whether (and when) to use Andy Cook. His introduction with 30 seconds to play was a classic “Face Palm” moment, and the next game he did come on much earlier - but it has to be said that in some ways our performances were equally (if not more) effective during his 3 match suspension. Of course it hasn’t helped that Jarvis is unavailable through injury, so there isn’t the quality of crosses on which Cook thrives.
The team selection has already been discussed on a separate thread, so in the spirit of Saddler optimism we go to a prediction … it has to be a scrappy 1-0 win, courtesy of the much maligned Nicky Devlin.