Walsall 0-3 Rochdale
03/01/2016 - 15:00
The Saddlers began life in 2016 with a pathetic showing against mid-table Rochdale. In fairness, it`s a game we`ve traditionally lost under Dean Smith; at home to a side we were expected to beat. It`s the first time in a while I`ve gone to a game expecting us to win and, whilst I realised beforehand how dangerous that was, it seemed like a decent benchmark to see how far we`d come in what is admittedly a short space of time under Sean O`Driscoll.
The writing was on the wall instantly, with Neil Etheridge needing to be at full stretch to push a Ian Henderson effort over the bar after just 13 seconds, this in a game we`d kicked off. From the resulting corner Calvin Andrew put wide when he really should have done better. The Saddlers didn`t heed the warnings though and deservedly fell behind after just 3 minutes when Henderson fired across Etheridge from a low Andrew Cannon cross after the Dale winger had far too easily dispossessed Anthony Forde.
Cannon was causing the Saddlers all sorts of problems as the home side struggled to adapt to the wet, greasy conditions. He saw a right footed effort from just outside the box beaten away by Etheridge, and then dragged a left foot shot wide after he`d breezed past Andy Taylor who was quite comfortably having his worst ever game in a Walsall shirt. It was though the Saddlers players had the wrong studs in their boots as they were struggling to keep their footing, and were about 4 yards slower to every ball; it was as though they were running through treacle.
Over the course of the last couple of years there have been numerous calls for us to play two up front and play 4-4-2 at home, and yesterday provided emphatic proof of exactly why we shouldn`t. We had no width in midfield meaning the fullbacks were constantly exposed, we had Sawyers playing far too deep as part of a central midfield two, which meant instead of having one striker isolated and completely out of the game, we were stuck with two of them. Had we changed shape and reverted to our 4-2-3-1 with Forde and Milan Lalkovic either side of Jordan Cook it may have given us more of a foothold in the game, but O`Driscoll fell into the trap nearly all managers seem too of refusing to rectify glaring errors in the starting line-up before half time.
The only time we did go one up front was when the referee produced one of the worst pieces of officiating I`ve ever seen by refusing to let Cook come back on to the field after treatment until the ball had gone out of play. What I mean by that is that if a ref misses a stonewall penalty, or incorrectly disallows a goal or awards a throw in the wrong way then that`s a split second decision which, while frustrating, is easy to forgive. By continuously pointing at Cook telling him to stay off the pitch for a good minute and a half when there was ample opportunity to do so was him choosing to be incorrect and deliberately making himself look like a massive buffoon. It nearly cost us a goal too, but Etheridge was again on hand to ensure it was only a corner.
Half time saw the introduction of Morris in place of Cook, presumably because we weren`t sure how long into the second half it would be before the ref would allow him back on the pitch. It was a strange switch considering we had Tom Bradshaw on the bench, and suggests how hugely unfit he must be if O`Driscoll couldn`t turn to him for a full 45 minutes. He did make an appearance for the final half an hour, but not until we`d gone two goals down. Calvin Andrew, who had seen an effort earlier in the half loop up off James O`Connor before being pushed over by Etheridge, turned in a Donal McDermott corner with the minimum of fuss.
McDermott was on hand to set up Andrew for the third goal too, firing home left footed as the Saddlers capitulated.
Here`s hoping it was only a blip.