On the 15th October, I missed Walsall’s last league win because I went to see Plymouth play against Dagenham and Redbridge at Victoria Road. Determined to not see Walsall lose, as I thought they would that day, I thought potentially seeing a scrappy League Two match would be better. I was sick of not seeing Walsall score and Jon Macken get no service, and since he was injured at the time, replace that with Alex Nicholls run around aimlessly. And, obviously, I like going to London and seeing my friend.
The match was scrappy – you wouldn’t expect anything else from two clubs at the bottom of the basement division of professional football; but Dagenham were especially poor. The Plymouth players, at that point, hadn’t been paid for months and the club hadn’t won away all season.
But even Plymouth won at Victoria Road. They scored two goals, then conceded two from corners, which was more of a product of having two very young centre backs, before a late penalty won it for them.
Six weeks later, Plymouth are still rooted to the base of League Two, but the point gap is closer than it has been the season, and more important for their long-term survival, they’ve been taken over and out of financial trouble for the time being; they could be out of the bottom two within a few weeks if they beat a few of their relegation rivals.
And six weeks later, Walsall are now in the League One relegation zone. And they can’t beat Dagenham and Redbridge – a club whose performance of late doesn’t show any particular improvement.
I don’t want to sound too dissatisfied: Walsall are where, attendances, resources and players at their disposal considered, they deserve to be. And as I have said on this blog before, getting rid of Dean Smith isn’t necessarily the answer. I’m not offering up solutions at all, I’m just more than willing to criticise at the moment.
There’s enough things that I can criticise legimitately. The club haven’t won away from home since the 27th August in any competition; Smith outlined that Walsall must win their home games at the start of the season and from nine attempts in League One they’ve won two of those, scoring only one goal in both wins; the team tends to take the lead, then lose it; attendances are dropping, the club clearly has no money; we’re reliant on young players, like George Bowerman, Will Grigg, Jamie Paterson and others, who aren’t proven at this level; he signed Ryan Jarvis, who, despite not really having a chance to prove that he deserve a place in the first team, I don’t ever want to be given one having seen him a fair bit at Leyton Orient. I could go on.
I had to work – I had to book time off and switch a shift around – until the early afternoon and I bombed it down on the Tube to get to Dagenham East, which, for anyone who knows London or the edge of Essex, is a fair way. I got off the Tube and the road from there to Victoria Road was quieter than I’d expected. It came as a surprise there were quite so few fans there though.
The minute’s silence set the trend for an odd afternoon. Some people applauded, some people stood, resolutely silent. The stand to Walsall fans’ left was the hardcore support, I imagine, and they clapped, whereas their main adminstrative stand stood still, except for one man. I started clapping and then decided that it looked a bit vulgar so stupidly I stopped and folded my arms.
For the first half, Dagenham plummelled Walsall. It was embarrassing. And yet the same tactic of Whack the Ball to Macken and Let Him Knock It Down was employed, to no effect. Will Grigg floated around the left wing for a bit, swapping with Alex Nicholls, but that seemed to be quickly forgotten and Nicholls stayed there more and more as the game progressed.
Andy Halliday seemed out of his depth for much of the game and skewed a few chances over or missed them completely. He’ll be one like David Martin, I suspect, and needs a few games to bed in – and then once he’s done that, he’ll be gone, Middlesbrough thanking us for what we’ve done for Halliday’s match fitness only for him to go back into their reserves.
But, with the midfield yet again totally ineffective – any of Richard Taundry’s positive form at the start of the season has now totally disappeared into the ether, and him and Adam Chambers are often so close that when they pass to each other, they’re only 5 feet apart and so virtually no ground is made by that move and then typically they lose the ball – it fell to Claude Gnapka to do something.
What, I’m not sure – just something. Immediately after being brought on, he tried to take on the Dagenham left back but backheeled the ball and lost it, and his header seemed to be dropped into the Dagenham net by Shea, but he made more impact in half an hour than Halliday did in double that time. And, critically if our main tactic is hoofball, he wins headers better than anyone in the squad.
There was a spell that Jimmy Walker would lump balls up field, only for them to quickly return as Jon Macken lost the ball or Will Grigg couldn’t hold onto the ball that Macken had given him. This, as I am not going to get bored of saying, is not the football that Smith said he was fond of or that he wanted to play, playing away or not.
For the second week, it was a drab away game, even if this week’s seemed significantly colder and I was wearing my warmer scarf. Their goal was good, Lee Beevers being totally outpaced and outflanked by Nurse, and they deserved it. The disappointing thing is that a team so outstandingly bad – 91/92 in league clubs at the moment – couldn’t be put away.
Does Smith have an aversion to winning away games? For the second time in two cup games, we’ve been ahead and drawn the game in the last ten minutes. Surely that says a lot. He said on the official website this evening “we’re looking like a difficult team to beat at the moment.” Other than being slightly angry that that’s what he thought about such a tepid performance, I’m sure that representatives from Charlton watching the match in view of playing Walsall away next weekend really didn’t have the same opinions.
Still, Chesterfield the week after might – might – give Walsall their first away win in what would be a first away win in three-and-a-half months. A possible win against Charlton? Don’t make me laugh. Whatever happens in the replay, a rocky time awaits – and I’m increasingly convinced of that every time I see Walsall at the moment.