Writer: Alsop Richards
Date:Saturday March 10 2007
The Bescot Stadium
Walsall set down the gauntlet to Hartlepool that the fight for the championship was not over and the tide could very well turn again before the end of the season. Why?, because this was a Walsall performance of spirit, determination, skill and overall dominance in every fought dominion that can be found in a football match. Walsall started with Darren Wrack in his new role, playing behind the goal-lacking Martin Butler. From a tactical point of the view it seemed that Wrack, Cooper and Harper would take turns in playing on either wing or just behind Butler in attempt to confuse the opposition defence.
Chester had a team of unknown names, except for journey man Lee Steele up front, who had scored the goals that got Leyton Orient promoted the previous season. There was also ex-Kidderminster Harriers players of goalkeeper Jon Dandy and Dean Bennett who had also previously plied his trade at Bromsgrove Rovers. Chester found themselves in the unenvious position of not being able to make a promotion push but also being safe of relegation. But saying that they were't just going to turn up at Bescot and lay down, only Arsene Wenger would expect that. It was clear from the start that Chester were going to employ spoling tactics, as they thumped loose balls into the stands or down the other end of the field in an attempt to break down the flow of Walsall's game. Another aspect of spoiling tactics is to keep fouling the opposition, treading the fine path between a yellow card and an early trip to the stands. Fortunately for Chester there luck was in as the Referee seemed unwilling to caution any of the ten posistent offenders on the Chester City side. How they are lucky, there the only team to be knocked out of the F.A. Cup twice in one season. When giving a free-kick to Walsall, he would tell the offending player to calm down and then seemingly apologise for giving the free kick against the player. A little bottle and back bone maybe needed for this man in black. This was worrying as I like many Saddlers fans had seen Boston United previously come to the Bescot and kick lumps out of our player and leave denying us a much needed three points.
But not all the Chester players escaped the gutless Ref as David Artell was cautioned in the first half. The fact that the two footed dangerous lunge at Darren Wrack was an instant red and possible GBH caution, will now be a footnote in football match reports. Getting back to the play and it was the visitors who should have taken the lead when the ball was dragged back to Lee Steele who with the whole goal to shoot at, decided to fire over. But Walsall had much of the play and possession and foraged forward consistently into the Chester penalty area but with Butler lacking a cutting edge it seemed a Saddler's opening goal would be hard work to come by. Hector Sam came on for the assaulted Darren Wrack much to chagrin of the Chester fans who remembered him from his Wrexham days. Half time and all level, there was boo's at home time, but much to the relief of Richard Money they were all belonging to the men in black. Walsall fans are very demanding of a Championship club that find themselves in League Two but were not barbarians and with the ammount of effort the men in red were putting in, they couldn't be faulted.
Walsall started the second half back on the attack and Chester in acceptance they would sit back and hit the home defence on the attack. Walsall pushed but there were three main problem, a referee allowing Walsall players to be battered, Chester having eleven players in their penalty area and the Saddler's determined belief that they could walk the ball into the visitor's net.
The final and deserving break through came in the sixty seventh minute when a surprise surprise Walsall free kick came in from the left. When the ball was delievered a Chester defended header the ball up into the air and as it travelled back thanks to gravity Laurie Wilson decided to palm the ball away. May I add the referee in all aspects of decision making had a great game, when there was a free kick he was on top of it and gave it, he was at fault for his lacking to control the game in terms of giving cautions or red cards. So the man in black after seeing the absurd hand ball was swift to point to the spot. Keates stepped up and waited for Danby to move off to his left and then fired the ball down the middle, much to relief of the home faithful. Game over right, Chester had offered little up front and it looked like they would struggle now? Well hate to break the climax but it was game over and there was only one team who were going to add to the scoreboard. On another day with better decision-making in the final third the Super Saddlers could have had a cricket score.
With Hartlepool riding there luck and getting a late equalising penalty on friday, Walsall moved to three points away from their rightful place. This Walsall performance was a matter of domination and one team basically being far better than ever. Our new season started with the signings of Harper and Cooper and since then we have picked up two home wins and a brilliant point at ever-improving Darlington. The critics and media say we continue to struggle and two wins in seven is not good enough, but were they there on Saturday the 10th of March to witness what I witnessed? With Hartlepool's endless supply of luck soon to run out (Andy Marriott's own goal at Boston, Macclesfield's own goal and the non-award of a Walsall penality at Victoria Park recently) and with the cream always rising to the top it would take a Paul Mersonite gambling man to bet against the Saddlers not being the Champions of League Two.
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Date:Saturday March 10 2007
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