Walsall FC- A View From The Stand
Well, where do I start? Having heard so much about our attractive style of play I obtained a 12-hour pass to go to Bournemouth, and how glad I am that I did!!! In 50+ years of watching Walsall I can honestly say that I've NEVER seen a Walsall side play with such confidence, such accuracy and ability as this lot. Plus, they actually seem to be enjoying themselves at the same time. Comparing it with the dark days of Merson, Barnwell, Hibbitt and even back to Johnny Love - it really is chalk and cheese.
I did make copious notes at the game but I won't bore you with all of them - perhaps a few tasters will do:
We kicked off, and within 8 seconds Will Grigg was off-side... attacking intentions were there already. For the first 15 minutes or so it was even stevens - Bournemouth were certainly no mugs, playing the occasional bit of pretty football but tending to find it all breaking down as they got near our penalty area. Both Baxendale and Grigg showed much enthusiasm for tracking back to regain possession, often successfully.
We had a corner on 16 minutes taken by Paterson, and Andy Butler headed wide. We were quite happy and willing to let fly from distance, wanting to test Bournemouth's newly-signed keeper David James.
I noted on 23 minutes that the game had 0-0 written all over it.........
When we did play the long ball up to Will Grigg or Bowerman it was not very productive - Bournemouth had their equivalent of Butler and Holden, a couple of giants. Much as Grigg tried his best, he wasn't going to get the better of them in the air. As the game wore on he developed his approach, using his skill on the ground.
We were playing the better, more skilful football, much more accurate in our passing than Bournemouth.
After 40 minutes a cross from our right wing was partially cleared, immediately re-crossed, and Andy Butler was the first of two waiting Walsall players to get his head to it. A close range headed goal, and David James absolutely nowhere.
Second half Bournemouth redoubled their efforts, and brought a fine full length save from Darlow, who really hadn't had much to do until that point. We had a break away with Grigg chasing a ball, a Bournemouth defender either side of him and he was definitely sandwiched, but nothing was given.
Grigg's work-rate nearly paid handsome dividends when David James elected not to kick clear but dribble out of his area...Grigg actually got the tackle in, the ball squirted towards the corner flag and the cross came to nothing. It was certainly a wake-up call for James though!!
We had a lovely purple patch after Bournemouth ran out of steam in the second half - in their half of the pitch about five of our players were stroking the ball around just like a training session. Real men against boys stuff, with Bournemouth totally unable to get possession. Every Walsall touch was greeted with a cheer, and there must have been 15 or more passing movements in that one phase - it was a joy to watch, as was so much of our play.
From an outswinging corner Taylor (I think) tried his luck with a volley that would have severely tested the netting had it been more accurate. Cuvelier had a long-range effort shortly afterwards.
One Bournemouth attack that provoked a crowd response was answered by the Walsall chorus of 'We forgot that you were 'ere'
Baxendale was replaced by Taundry on 75 minutes, and on 81 minutes we seemed to be absent at right back, allowing them to equalise from a through ball. At that point I would have been reasonably happy with the draw, but the players thought very differently - a Walsall corner in the 89th minute saw a low inswinging delivery which George Bowerman appeared to side-foot from close range past David James.
Bournemouth huffed and puffed, and did shave our post in the 90th minute. Even after that they forced a fine close range save by Darlow from quite a powerful shot.
I won't award individual marks, I've bored you enough already, but I would make a couple of observations......
Why, oh why, do certain professional football defenders have the notion that holding their arms up aloft will persuade the officials that the opposition attacker is offside? All it does is waste time, allowing the opponent to make further progress. Both Andy Butler and Andy Taylor were guilty of this (several times) - surely it's basic sense to 'play the whistle'
Another little gripe...when we have a free-kick way out near the touchline, it's usually the case that the ball will be delivered to the waiting multitude on the edge of the area - so why do we need two players standing over the ball? That's a waste of one player who could be more useful up front.
The playing surface by the way was very satisfactory, as it should be at this time of the year - but prior to kick off, and all through half-time, huge sprinklers were used to water all areas of the pitch. This led to several players slipping and sliding and generally falling over at the slightest challenge.
A final note of humour....in the team lists on the official programme, our number 8 is actually printed as Florence Cuvelier
I'll close now, thank you for your patience