Walsall 1-1 Notts County
17/08/2013 - 15:00
If, based on the opening weeks of the season, any Saddlers fans believed this season was going to be a procession of sexy football, brushing teams aside and waltzing into the playoff places, then today they were in for a rude awakening. A disjointed, lacklustre performance finally saw an end to out 100% start and, but for a controversial offside decision in injury time, would have also seen an end to our unbeaten home record which now stretches back over nine months.
A forgettable first half saw situations far too often where the player in possession was far too eager to pass it for his own good, while the players around him weren`t anywhere near eager enough to move into space and receive it. The result was sloppy football that saw us give the ball away far too often and invite pressure on to ourselves. Paul Downing hardly managed to pass the ball to a red shirt all first half, while Sam Mantom and the Chambers twins all distinctly off colour we were losing the midfield battle. The visitors, who did force a couple of smart, if routine, stops from Richard O`Donnell, will probably feel they should have created more than they did in the first half and, on the balance of play, may feel they should have gone into half time ahead.
You felt strong words were needed at half time and they surely arrived as the Saddlers started the second half with far more urgency and a lot more purpose to their play. Baxendale saw a shot fly over before on 50 minutes Romaine Sawyers, starting in place of the injured Milan Lalkovic, picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch. The County players backed off and invited him to curl the ball into the bottom corner, which from 25 yards is precisely what he did. 1-0, and at that point you felt we`d probably take the game by the scruff of the neck and go on to win it. We did have chances to do that as Craig Westcarr, twice, and then Sam Mantom saw shots blocked by the County keeper.
The visitors, who had spent the entire game trying to drag us into a physical battle, weren`t prepared to give up on the game so easily. They managed to overload us down the right hand side of our defence and were given the freedom of WS1 to swing in cross after cross from their left flank. The fact it took them so long to convert one says more about them than it does about us. However, on 75 minutes the equaliser did eventually arrive when Yoann Arquin netted from, yes you guessed it, another left wing cross.
Instead of attempting to deal with the supply from the left, the Saddlers instead decided the best way to deal with the problem was to have enough people in the box to ensure we always headed it away. Both wingers came off, with Nicky Featherstone and Troy Hewitt coming on in their place. The plan wasn`t really working though and as the game wore on the visitors looked the most likely winners.
They almost were when O`Donnell was fouled attempting to deal with a cross, which was inexplicably missed by a referee of questionable abilities, James Chambers had to hack one off the line to prevent the visitors taking the lead. Another thing inexplicably missed by the man in grey came moments later from a Saddlers corner. Andy Butler was hauled to the ground only for the offence to be completely ignored. I must admit even I missed that one as I was too busy watching Adam Chambers being wrestled to the ground behind him. No penalty.
As the clock ticked to 90 minutes a rasping Benning shot from the edge of the box took a pretty hefty deflection off Leacock in the County defence to force a superb tip over Bialkowski in the visiting goal. But that wasn`t the end of the action as in the second minute of injury time.
A free kick for Notts wasn`t dealt with and Arquin stole in to score what would surely be the winner. Thankfully, the linesman`s flag came to our rescue and ensured our unbeaten start to the season continued. It was a little bit of luck that our performance barely warranted.
The fact we played so poorly and still took something from the game has to been as a huge plus, but as a performance it definitely falls into the 'must do better` category.