Walsall 3-2 Rochdale - Report
10/02/2015 - 19:45
Dare we dream? Is it possible that, having waited 127 years for a bus, two could come along at once and we may make it a Wembley double in the playoffs? A first home win of the year, against side above us in the league, to move us within two points of the playoffs means it`s certainly possible; even if we did do our best to throw it away in the second half.
Dean Smith had said pre-match that he wanted a quick start tonight, and he certainly got it as the Saddlers motored into a 3-0 lead inside the first quarter of the game. We opened the scoring from a corner on the quarter hour mark as a Forde delivery was met by James O`Connor for an effort that was easily saveable by any competent League One goalkeeper. Fortunately for us, the visitors were fielding Josh Lillis between the sticks, who was to produce the most inept display of goalkeeping seen at the Banks`s since the days of Johnny Brain. He wasn`t quite Andy Petterson bad, but he wasn`t far off. Somehow he managed to let O`Connor`s header in, although until I see the replay I`m not entirely sure how.
Anthony Forde on the Saddlers right was sticking to the touchline and causing their left back all sorts of problems, to the point where he was actually replaced after 25 minutes, but not before Forde had all but put the game to bed. First he ran on to a delicious cross field pass from Romaine Sawyers to tuck past the hapless Lillis, who`d even found time to fumble a cross or two between the goals. Moments later it was 3-0, and again it was the diagonal ball to Forde that did the damage. The winger made his way inside before the ball broke to Jordi Hiwula who slotted home to make it two in two during his loan spell so far.
Rochdale responded by making a double substitution, and we decided Lillis had suffered enough humiliation for one night and that we weren`t going to bother troubling him any further. The rest of the first half passed without much incident and at half time you felt the Saddlers were on their way to a routine home win, or as routine as our home wins ever are.
Whatever Deano said to the players at half time clearly didn`t work (unless he said "Throw the game away lads!" which seems unlikely), and this was compounded by the perplexing decision to bring on James Baxendale for Forde at the break. If Forde wasn`t injured, then it`s one of the most stupid tactical decisions Deano has made this season and it almost cost us the game.
Within twenty minutes of the restart the visitors were back in the game at 3-2, firstly when Peter Vicenti slotted home in the 54th minute, and then when we failed several times to clear a corner and Ashley Eastham poked home from close range after Richard O`Donnell had done well to save the initial effort.
It`s not often you can label a Walsall performance under Dean Smith as unprofessional, but that second half was as close as it got and was probably the worst 45 minute performance since, ironically, the first half at Rochdale earlier in the season when they battered us 4-0. It was so bad that former Saddlers centre half Olly Lancashire was dominating the midfield for the visitors.
That said, if the introduction of Baxendale nearly cost us the game, then the decision to bring Rico Henry on for the last quarter of an hour probably ensured we won it as he gave us the outlet on the flank we`d been lacking all half. In hindsight he should have come on at half time instead and Cook should have switched to the other flank, but we`ll know for next time. In fact, Henry on one side and Forde on the other would be frightening for most League One defences and is something I hope we see at some point.
All in all though it is another three points and a vital home win, it just doesn`t exactly feel like it.