Fortunately, I missed the Bury game but couldn’t find anyone, friend or foe, to take my ticket because no one I know wanted to go to see Walsall. A lot of them chose staying at home and waiting for the Aston Villa on Monday was a far more preferable option; others couldn’t be arsed; others didn’t reply.
What’s most disappointing this season, I’m finding, is that there seems to be no considerable improvement on what happened last season. Short of clearly being the worst club in the division for a long stretch of the season, instead we’re simply one of the worst ones now. Of course, the funding is lacking, supplemented seemingly only by Stan Collymore speaking at the ground and people paying over-the-top prices for a prawn cocktail watching a tribute to the Bee Gees. And the crowds which are not exactly blasting through Bescot’s turnstiles have to be taken into account, too. But if the club is not treading water, it’s going backwards. Although Walsall were lucky to escape relegation last season, I feel that the way this season’s going, we might not be so lucky this time around: there’s no Plymouth Argyle to go into administration to save us. We still have Smith, though.
All of the pre-season previews I saw had Walsall either at the bottom or somewhere near there but I had a bit more faith. After a few games, though, they were right and I wrong. Things could turn around – of course they could and if they do this will look silly: but do I think they will, deep down? No – but when Dean Smith says something and it either turns out to be a bit askew or worse totally wrong, you have to question what’s going on.
For example, he stated that from the first 15 games in League One, his team achieved (I think) 13 points: he said that there would be certainly more points gained from the next 15 games. Now, whether that was a point made wholly out of optimism, I’m unsure – I guess it was because if Walsall gained fewer than the total he expects to achieve, the club would be likely staring relegation in the face. But why say it? Why say something that, should it not come to pass, he’ll look silly? Similarly, the thing about Walsall challenging for the play-offs at the start of the season is something that, I’m sorry, still irks me, so absolutely ludicrous it was.
Smith also said at the start of the season that there would be good, free-flowing football played by his team. In (at least parts of) all the games I’ve seen so far this season, that hasn’t been the case. Manny Smith has continued to play like he had his hoofer-in-chief Clayton McDonald next to him and seems to think his job is blast the ball to the opposition’s goalkeeper. The midfield, boosted by Mark Wilson when I’ve seen him, still isn’t going to trouble many in League One: I never imagined Kevan Hurst or, earlier in the season, Claude Gnapka would be missed so much. As I say, I couldn’t get to Walsall on Saturday and perhaps it was different then, though I doubt that very much.
There are other worries. Despite the fact that he’s clearly a promising player, Jamie Paterson can’t do everything on his own. I’m sure he feels he might be able to, or want to, go round four players before scoring a magnificent solo goal, but has anyone told him that he’s actually able to pass the ball to team mates? Though that maybe out of place considering the number of times he’s conjured something out of absolutely nothing in the past few games, it is frustrating to see him to try to do everything alone so frequently.
But, generally, could we seriously expect better if Smith were to go? In short, no. There’d be no more money available for another manager; and morale would surely be drained from players who have already played themselves into the relegation zone, despite being told they’re a ‘cracking bunch of lads’ on a more than regular basis, ((c) Dean Smith, 2011) clearly like their manager. His removal would surely be a backward step, at least with the players playing for the club at present.
So that’s where I stand, at least. A few wins in a row – although Walsall haven’t done that all season, so perhaps that’s too optimistic – would lift Walsall out of the relegation zone. Last night’s win against Exeter means an away match at Dagenham and Redbridge, I will probably make it along to despite my reservations over how useful the cups actually are to clubs like Walsall. Still, this might be our year to get thumped at the Emirates or Stamford Bridge. And perhaps stay up.