Walsall came away from fortress Victoria Park with a deserved victory against a very good Hartlepool outfit. This was the Saddlers of last season as the away side got eventual control of the game and then scored late on. This was so much unlike Walsall this season, that I was left questioning whether I'd turned up to see Watford Football Club instead. Maybe it was the yellow shirts, red shorts, red socks and leading man Tommy Mooney up front. But Walsall fans were left pinching themselves how good the team looked and how well they'd played.
One of the most promising things, was the work ethic shown by the players, organisation and the fact that the defence just as they did last season seemed to thrive under pressure. Like the back four work staking a claim 'that they couldn't be beaten' which they weren't as they defended superbly. But defending isn't just for defenders and the whole team worked hard, putting pressure on the ball and keeping possession well. The side had four personnel changes. Demontagnac was on the left wing, Denney up front, Dwayne Mattis in centre midfield along with skipper Michael Dobson, (Martin Butler was noted for his exclusion from the squad). Darren Wrack played at right back and Gerrard played as centre half.
It was the Saddlers who started brightest and had the first chance came their way to open the scoring. Eddy Sonko saw his shot deflected wide, soon afterward Denney missed a header from close range. But nobody's perfect. Then the Pool came back into the match and gained much possession and forced Ince into a couple of smart saves. Andy Monkhouse one of the players of League Two last season showed good footwork on the wing and was a constant threat. But the Saddlers looked solid, in fact the troubles they did encountered came from their own mistakes, dallying on the ball in possessions or trying one trick too many in the case of Ismael (sporting a shaved head). But Money's new look side were working hard, gone was the sluggish, lethargic Danny Sooner replaced by Mattis, who was a warrior alongside the returning Dobson. Not only is Mattis a good tackler but was always keen to thread a quick through ball to Denney on the break. Up front this was the best combination of forwards yet, Butler and Mooney was never going to work, both strikers are too similair. But Denney and Mooney are Ying and Yang and their understanding of each others game and intentions was improving as the game progressed.
The second half started with the Saddlers at somewhat nerves end and maybe the good work of the first half would be undone. Monkhouse showed clever footing and crossed high into the box but Ince (now playing for his place with the impressive form of Bossu in the reserves) taking the catch. Then the Referee was replaced by the Assistant Referee with the fourth official taking the flag.
Hartlepool under the pressure of the home faithful and with Jeff Stelling in the Sky studio probably prediciting a home goal showed desperation in their play. Sweeney came on to liven things up. Nelson burst forward to cross to Brown but his sweet volley was too close to Ince. Hall then came off the bench for the Saddlers in replace for the hardworking Denney. McDermott came on for Ismael and in the closing stages the impressive Mattis was replaced by Welsh kid Mark Bradley. The busy McDermott was immediately invovled and hit a low volley that was easily saved.
The Saddlers were heading for a deserved point, against a team that will not be easily beaten this season on their home turf. But with a couple of minutes Mooney flicked the ball into the path of the onrushing Hall, the winger used his nouse and fired early and low to give the Saddlers the win. The Hartlepool fans dispersed quickly, I was later told Stelling refused to announce the goal on Sky Sports and he did at half time report that he was expecting a Pool goal, ha,ha.
In a week where Money's summer signings were questioned and so were his tactics for the current season. The Gaffer booted one those summer signings out and got the Saddlers playing to the best- back to basics and good defending. A outside tabloid rumour that has come out of the Banks' Stadium was that Danny Sonner, Tommy Mooney and third not mentioned player had questioned Money's tactics this season. Mr. Money non-too impressed decided to boot out Sonner for going over the top, Mooney was facing the same treatment but he apologised and then there's Martin Butler who was completely left out of the squad. As said this is just a rumour and should be taken with a pinch of salt even though following it Sonner went onto be released and Butler was excluded. One thing for sure is that the Saddlers faithful might never find out the truth, the only thing that can be taken as not being true is that Danny Sonner has agreed to terminate his contract mutually, because he didn't feel he could contribute due to niggling injuries. Danny Sonner's reputation would have you believe he's the kind of player to happily sit out a season drawing wages out of the club while on the sidelines. Neither is it believable that he conviently carried on playing against Oldham Atheltic unti half last week though he was suffering from an injured achilles, professional players wouldn't consider aggravating the problem- so to carry on until half time is unreasonable, he was just poor. It was only yesterday we had the brutal honesty of Mr. Merson who would never hold (Ian Roper's too fat) back from the truth, seems Mr. Money's got tact. Though the truth maybe that Sonner has been lined up with a player-coach role at Vale.
The Saddlers now need to keep going and put in a good performance and hopefully get a good result against a very useful Doncaster Rovers side. Walsal fans will not want their good faith wasted as it was after the Millwall match the following Saturday. I hope the Saddlers haven't caught a complex about playing at the Banks Stadium, they haven't won there since the renaming of the Stadium in pre season or in the current season. Let's just see what the future holds.