Done By Cheating Dons
The Bescot Stadium
Attendance: 25th March
Walsall lost ground at the top of League Two due to a dodgy referee and our willingness to accept a point when three points were truly on offer. As our friends from the North play with confidence and a ruthless streak, Walsall are more reserved and seemingly happy to just not get beat. Lets put this into some kind of context in our last three away trips we have travelled to three of the top eight teams in the divison and haven't got beat. Taking a haul of three points from a possible nine, which would have been accepted before the first mile to Darlington. But in this away day trips to Darlington, Wycombe and MK Dons there have been points in the match where we have been utterly dominant and missed countless chances, that three out of nine doesn't seem that good anymore. It maybe a case of 'what may have been' or just be about me being a greedy Saddler.
So the review of the third Super Sunday League One game, second against third. Walsall went into the match knowing that Hartlepool had doubled their lead to six points after drumming local rivals Darlington away from home. Also Swindon had turned up the pressure by winning three two at Lincoln as the Imps start to falter once again at the business end of the season. Richard Money made one change to the team bring the on loan Trevor Benjamin in for Hector Sam, hoping to rekindle his partnership with Butler they had at the Abbey Stadium.
Walsall started brightly and should have taken the lead and a man advantage as soon as the fifth minute. A cross was clipped into the home defence and Martin Butler chested down and was about to pull the trigger but was hauled down by Sean O'Hanlon in the MK defence. There was no one in the ground except Referee Lee Probert and the near Assistant Referee who didn't think this was a penalty. Time and play nearly stopped before the Peter Coyote lookalike Lee Probert urged that he was not going to make a decision and that play was to go on. Not only should this have been penalty but it would have been a straight red for the home defender, as he was the last man.
Next the wind assisted Dons came forward and looked to reply straight away. As the home attackers were given too much room outside our own penalty area a shot was fired in, that totally wrong footed Ince as the shot was caught in the tricky wind. The ball seemed to be past Ince but he hooked a leg back and half volleyed the ball into the air ala Rene Higuta style. The ball arived to Clive Platt who took it on the half volley but Ince somehow got back on his feet and now only made the save but held onto the ball. The man from Trinidad is either ridiculous or sublime on this occasion he was found to be at his best and showed amazing agility.
Butler and Benjamin started to show promising link-up play between themselves as they looked to carve open the home defence. The next moment of contention was in the thrity sixth minute when the ball was dropped over the top of the home defence. Benjamin looked to the near assistant referee who made no signal. Benjamin raced on to drift the ball over Lee Harper and surely give the Saddlers their deserved lead. But the assistant at the last moment decided to raise his flag and wrongly chalk off what on second, third or fourth viewing was a perfectly legit goal.
Half time came and from the first half showing Walsall had the edge, not if the two goal lead they well and truly deserved. Walsall were tight at the back with Dann and Gerrard looking immense, Westwood looking solid and Fox looking comfortable in his defensive duties. Dobson and Keates were also working tirelessly to break down the flow of Dons attacking play. The only problem appeared to be the two Kevin's. Harper played in a more withdrawn position as he doubled back to help Fox out with the tricky and pacey ex-Baggie Lloyd Dyer. But Kevin Cooper jumped out of 50/50 challenges and appeared to be weeks away from being anything resembling being match fit.
Walsall came out for the second half willing and waiting for the arrival of the home side. They started the half by taking the game to their opponents and should have taken the lead a couple of minutes in. Harper crossed and Butler's neat header smashed against the cross bar and was cleared. It was against the run of play that Dons took the lead four minutes into the second half. The tricky Jon-Paul McGovern crossing into the area and McLeod skillfully chesting down and passing the ball beneath Ince and into the net. This was a major blow to the visitors who had been so harshly treated by the officials in the first half. But credit must be given as the Saddlers' players never let their heads drop and once again took the game to their opponents as they turned up the gears. MK Dons were prepared to try and kill the game off by attacking on the break. It was at this point when over eager ball boys in the first half, started to stare in wonder when asked for a ball by one of the Saddlers' players. The Saddlers fans chanted 'one nil to the referee' and never has the rhetoric seemed so true than in this case, you couldn't help but have a lump in your throat as to how proceeding had gone.
Things were worst when the incredible Dann streched too far in a tackle and was left with a severe injury to the back of his thigh. Craig Pead came on for Dann and Westwood slotted into his centre half position. A couple of minutes later and Darren Wrack came on for the tired Kevin Cooper. Wrack went into centre midfield and Dean Keates switched to the left swing. It was a move involving Wrack that led to the Saddlers' equaliser as another countless foul by a MK Dons defender led to a free kick on the right for the Saddlers. Keates put a wonderful cross into the box and Darren Wrack volleyed in at the back post to restore any Saddler's fans believe in justice.
Hector Sam came on for the impressive Trevor Benjamin and as both teams searched for a winner the game became streched. But chances were at a premium, with Walsall having the better of them with a couple of dangerous Dean Keates free kicks. Was this a valuable point gained or two points dropped?