Walsall 2-1 Stevenage
19/10/2013 - 15:00
After over two months of trying, the Saddlers finally returned to winning ways on their own patch with a routine home win, and in doing so managed to ruin the weekend of everyone`s favourite League One manager.
A change of tactics to the starting line-up saw Romaine Sawyers recalled at the expense of the unfortunate Nicky Featherstone. It was however a change that needed to be made, and Sawyers justified Dean Smiths decision after just 10 minutes when he put the Saddlers ahead.
A cross field pass from James Chambers found Ashley Hemmings who, despite being fouled for the duration of his 30 yard run, managed to play the ball across the box to Sawyers who calmly slotted the ball in at the near post leaving the visiting keeper with no chance.
Stevenage were showing all the hallmarks of a classic Graham Westley team, namely high in brutality but low on quality. This was highlighted most when Peter Hartley, having been skinned by the impressive Hemmings, blatantly hauled him down to earn the most clear cut booking you`ll see all season.
Despite dominating the game, we again fell into the trap of attempting to walk the ball into the net and, although we never looked in danger of allowing the cloggers back into the match, we also didn`t really test Day in the visitors goal anywhere near enough.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that, when we want too, we really do have that cutting edge, as was illustrated with our second goal ten minutes after the break. A surging run and superb through ball from Baxendale was finished excellently left footed by Westcarr going across the goal to end a move of real quality.
That really should have been that, but in true Walsall style we attempted to keep things interesting by offering the visitors a lifeline. O`Donnell flapped at a cross and dropped it at the feet of Zoko who wont score an easier goal all season. It was suggested at the start of the season when our new number 1 was staying glued to his line that he needed to command his box more, but from this Saddler at least there was always a feeling we were better off that way as the defence knew where they stood and he wasn`t going to start flapping and costing us goals. While he does need to add that element to his game, he needs to learn when to put it into practice, and when not too.
For a few minutes after the goal Stevenage did threaten to spoil our day, but then shot themselves in the foot spectacularly with 12 minutes to go. An Oscar winning dive by Andy Taylor saw the ref wave play on and Stevenage break, only for play to be stopped by an off the ball incident spotted by the fourth official. After deliberation between the officials, the referee sent off Lucas Akins for punching Paul Downing in the midriff.
From then on, despite only having a single goal lead, we managed to see the game out comfortably and looked the most likely side to score again; substitute Julian Gray having the best chance when he broke one on one, only for the keeper to make a save that was far more comfortable than it should have been.
But the home curse is over and takes us into another tricky set of fixtures with confidence. Four of our next five opponents are currently above us in the league, while the other (Coventry) would be above us too if not for their 10 point penalty. With that in mind, the three points today could prove vital.