Two weeks ago I began writing a blog about Walsall’s start to the season, highlighting how well they were doing and how the atmosphere around the club had improved tenfold in comparison to the same time last season.
The early signs were good. A victory over Leyton Orient on the opening day was followed up by a decent point at Hartlepool. Then the biggest test came at Bramall Lane, nobody gave the Saddlers a chance, but they outplayed Sheffield United for long periods only to succumb 3-2 in the end. Another point against Yeovil, and win at Bournemouth saw the team with eight points from the first five games of the season. Nothing to be too worried about so far.
Then, a scrappy Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win against Shrewsbury Town saw the club’s first cup win against league opposition in ten (yes, ten) attempts. Everything was rosy around Bescot Crescent and words like “ambition” were being coined along with “cup run!”
Our next three fixtures were: Brentford at home, Notts County away and back at the Bescot against Oldham Athletic. All winnable, one would think.
Sadly, I didn’t finish writing the blog in time for the first of these three fixtures and things changed quite considerably from that afternoon onwards.
I was at a family wedding for the Brentford match, and finances dictated that Notts County (the Saddlers’ local derby this season!) was a no-goer too. It seems I got the best end of the bargain ultimately, as two defeats were accompanied by two poor performances.
This brings us to Tuesday night’s home match against Oldham. Why wasn’t there a wedding for me to go to then?
I am certain that had Oldham being playing like that against any other team in the division away from home, they’d have left empty handed. As it was, they were playing Walsall, and left with three points securely in the bag.
Without Jon Macken, there was no nous going forward at all and ending the game with a strike-force of Jamie Paterson, Ryan Jarvis and Alex Nicholls strikes fear only into the Walsall fans (ducking for cover behind the corner flag.)
Unfortunately, the squad is looking terribly thin already, and with injuries to key players we look like a very poor side. This is highlighted by the fact that at least four of the players who left in the summer – Julian Gray, Matt Richards, Emmanuel Ledesma and Jordan Cook – would walk into this side with ease.
Without some loan additions in the right areas (creative midfielder, winger, striker, right-back, the list goes on….) we may be talking about the dreaded ‘R word’ once again.
Dean Smith’s honeymoon period seems to be over and whilst remembering the ‘great escape’ he masterminded last season, it is rarely recognised that despite this, Smith’s record as manager is still not that spectacular. He was heavily aided by the extreme failures of the other sides struggling at the bottom of League One – finishing on 48 points and surviving is a rarity.
The next few matches are going to provide him with his first real test. He needs to stop the rot before Walsall find themselves stuck near the bottom of the league, again.
Written by Tom Miller, We Are Going Up’s Walsall Blogger
Tom tweets at @likelyladtom