A Penney for the blind
On Wednesday morning Oldham manager David Penney was quoted as saying that he’d need to see THAT tackle again before making up his mind about it. He would have been no more than five yards away when the challenge was made but seems to have decided to adopt the oft-used Arsene Wenger stance when asked about it.
Well, I never…… My abiding memory of Tuesday night’s convincing victory over the Latics will, I think, always be the image of Lee Hills homicidal, sliding lunge taking Steve Jones somewhere around his left knee, and the immediate certainty in my mind that we’d just lost Jonah for the rest of the season. I can only think that Jones’ foot must have been off ground when the impact came, or there would surely have been a serious injury sustained or, maybe, a career ended there and then. I’d never condone players fighting on the field of play, but if one of our other lads had flattened Hills in the seconds after the incident I think I’d have understood. If ever a tackle deserved a stronger punishment than a red card and a three-game suspension then this was it. Interestingly Hills is on loan at Boundary Park from Crystal Palace, meaning he’s being coached in the ways of Warnock. I’d never have guessed!!
Bescot breathed a collective sigh of relief when Jones, somewhat gingerly, got back to his feet and then enjoyed a moment of the sweetest revenge when he turned up in their area to toe-end the second goal past Flahavan just in time for the over-picky referee to sound the end of the half. A half in which both sides made a sluggish start in difficult conditions and one in which Oldham, with leading scorer Pawel Abbott absent, made little headway and all-in-all looked a poor side, an impression they did nothing to dispel after the break. The Saddlers saw plenty of the ball early on with Byfield and Jones in particular catching the eye with their constant endeavour and probing of the Latics’ back four and it was Byfield providing the cross for Deeney to net the first goal at the far post, Deeney going close later in the half when forcing the keeper into conceding a corner.
So, we went into the break with a two-nil lead having played reasonably well and holding the visitors at arm’s-length with some ease. As long as the players could be prevented from counting chickens before they hatched we should go on to take a full haul of points, and, with this in mind, I feel that Hutch got our second-half tactics exactly right. We moved the ball from wing to wing constantly and with patience, never giving Oldham the chance to get back the goal they needed in order to put doubt in our minds. We needn’t have worried as Oldham were awful and Clayton must have had one of the quietest nights of his long career. One slight criticism might be that we failed to boost our goal difference more when a bit of incisiveness around the eighteen-yard box may have seen us rack up a sizeable victory. However, the third goal proved to be worth the wait as Deeney showed a, perhaps surprising, lightness of touch when controlling a falling ball before whipping it under the keeper to wrap up a deserved win and to send us home feeling very contented and to hell with the awful weather!
I’ll admit to being surprised to see Josh O’Keefe in the starting eleven and his second-minute yellow card didn’t bode well for the rest of the evening. Despite that dodgy start the lad went on to have an excellent game, eschewing any hint of flashiness and doing the simple things well. If I’d been the one to decide who should receive the man-of-the-match award it would have gone to young Josh for putting in such a strong, solid performance in far-from-ideal conditions in his first game. His play may not have stood out in quite the way of Jones, Byfield and Deeney but it was a showing with which the young man can be very satisfied. More of the same please!
To summarise I feel this was a match where not one Saddler had a bad game and several had reason to be pretty pleased with their nights’ work. Once again it felt as though we’d taken another little step forward, the latest in a lengthening series that’s beginning to suggest that we might just be in for a better season than anyone anticipated. We’ll have a much better idea of exactly how much progress is being made after the hectic spell of games in December, a month that promises to be tough and one in which we’ll be tested by most of the ‘big’ teams in the division and several of those around us in the table. A good haul of points between now and early January and…………………………………..well, you never know.