It has been ten league games since the previous Walsall instalment on We Are Going Up. In this time the Saddlers have slipped into the bottom four, having only managed to pick up seven points, with just one win and four draws in those ten games.
This, really, has come as no surprise to those watching the team week-in-week-out, given the tiny squad, lack of experience and unfortunately, lack of quality.
Walsall’s weak squad is not helped by the inconsistent performances of key players. Veteran goalkeeper Jimmy Walker is in and out of the team, central defender Andy Butler has not been the influential figure of last season, new club captain Adam Chambers has not lived up to his pre-season hype, senior striker Jon Macken has been injured and failed to get back to match fitness. The spine of the team is either under-performing or out of action, leaving the youngsters around them out of their depth.
However, the most disappointing factor in the poor season to date, is the lack of passion and fight within the team. The players and management’s consistent comments to the local media avoiding the problems the team are facing, just because “oh well, at least it isn’t as bad as last season” doesn’t help either.
Maybe it isn’t that bad yet (yet, being a very key word here), but Dean Smith has only managed 12 wins in his 48 games in charge, and that is a very worrying statistic. Ignorance of the problems Walsall have ahead of them is only going to make things worse, and something needs to change before it is too late.
Whether that is a change of management remains to be seen. If results continue to go against him, it is likely that Smith’s time will be up at some point this season, but his dismissal will almost certainly be done as a last resort. It is the ‘Walsall way’ and maybe this time without anyone doing a Plymouth and going into administration, the Saddlers won’t be as lucky as last season.
One bright spark to come from the season so far is the emergence of two youth team products – 19-year-old winger Jamie Paterson, and 20-year-old striker George Bowerman.
Paterson has been a main attacking threat in the last two months, he scored his first senior goal at Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium a fortnight ago to earn a valuable point. Since then he has been rewarded with a two year extension on his contract to, at least, ensure the club get some control over the fee for him before the 2013/14 season is complete.
Bowerman, meanwhile, has been scoring for fun in the reserves and when given his chance in the first team has continued to impress. He already has two goals to his name from only four senior substitute appearances.
However, other than the emergence of two young players, it is difficult to put a more positive spin on Walsall’s fortunes.
This week’s FA Cup First Round Replay win over Exeter City may have papered over some of the cracks, but it is becoming more and more imperative to find some league wins. That won’t be easy, with tough games coming up away to Stevenage (7th), at home to Charlton (1st), away to Chesterfield (24th) and at home to Sheffield Wednesday (3rd) on Boxing Day, a position well adrift of safety could be on the cards come the new year.
Local pride is wearing even thinner than normal, with West Brom and Wolves looking to establish themselves in the top flight, and even local non-leaguers Stourbridge making national headlines with their FA Cup exploits, Walsall’s claim to being “Pride of the Midlands” could not be further from the truth.
Written by Tom Miller, We Are Going Up’s Walsall Blogger
Tom tweets at @likelyladtom