Dynamo Demetriou – An Appreciation

Has there ever been a better Walsall right-back? I think not. For a long time I always had Wayne Evans as my favourite  but really I knew that Ian Brightwell was better and James Chambers for that matter. But did any of those contribute as much in attack as Jason? No, they did not. In fact, Jason scored more goals for Walsall in one season than all of them put together in their entire Walsall career. He even found time to score for Cyprus and send Wales to the Euro 2016. Blimey!

This is the reason that he will be the man we will miss the most this season (with the obvious exception of Bradshaw) as his displays last season were superb and you rarely see anyone influence the game from that position so much at our level. We have Kinsella and Edwards fighting for that place now but I am not optimistic about them being able to fill Demetriou’s boots as he gave so much to the team.

It wasn’t just scoring goals. It was creating chances and keeping the opposition occupied as well.He ended up with five assists (thanks to @saddlersstats for that information) to go with those four goals. He was a marked improvement on the decidely average Ben Purkiss who looked awful for Port Vale in a more advanced position in the last game of the season.

Demetriou had to be one of the fittest players at the club, bombing up and down that right side and forming an impressive partnership with Forde. He was defensively sound and had a streetwise side – being prepared to commit a foul for the team when necessary.

Witness the run and cross for Bradshaw to open the scoring at home against Fleetwood, the two different assists at Blackpool away, the tap in at home to Blackpool and the last minute winner against Gillingham and tell me that there has ever been a better Walsall right-back?

I am amazed that he hasn’t made a move to a bigger club but instead gone sideways to Southend. Good luck there Jason. I’m sure you will be pleased to know that you make it into my all time Walsall XI and it will take a hell of a player to dislodge you.

Burton upon Trent Albion v Walsall Preview

Who would have thought that this game between these two little clubs would be so important at this stage of the season? Not me, that’s for sure. I predicted nothing but doom and gloom this season and here I am now thinking of getting a season ticket for next season.

Anyway, enough of this nonsense. It should be a preview after all. I know no Burton players except their reserve goalkeeper Stephen Bywater so I am not going to talk about them. I will focus purely on Walsall.

The lack of a decent forward other than Bradshaw (who has clearly been carrying an injury recently) has proved to be our undoing of late. When we went up in 2001 we had Byfield, Leitao, Angell and Goodman at the end of the season (I know we played two up front those days) meaning we could change things round very easily. With only Cook available we don’t have that luxury this time round.

With this in mind, it was a disappointment this week that we had no more forwards come into the squad. However, we did get another midfielder in (Wakefield) who I fully expect to make his debut tomorrow in a three man midfield with Mantom and Chambers – Lalkovic dropping to the bench (or playing up front if Bradshaw doesn’t make it).

O’Connor will come back in to the team as well to give us reassurance and experience at the back and no doubt Henry will squeeze himself into the team too, with Taylor dropping to the bench.

I didn’t think that much of Burton when I saw them last time and as we have an excellent away record I fully expect us to get our season back on track and record a three-nil  victory in front of the travelling hoards of 1800 Walsall fans.

 

Interview with Dino Mennillo

The summer of 2001 saw Walsall lying in the sun reflecting on promotion to Division One after their play-off success. Sir Ray – white handkerchief on his head – plotted with Paul Taylor – caked in coconut oil – about the players needed to stay up next season.

Dino Mennillo was one of the signings. He was unveiled to the press. Played a couple of games in Scotland. And then was gone, before the season even started.

So what actually happened? Dino has agreed to put the record straight and tell us about what has happened to him since then.

What are your memories of Walsall?

To be completely honest my memories are difficult to describe. Whilst I was thrilled to be signed and given an opportunity at such a high level, in hindsight, I realized fairly early on that I was about five years too late. I was 25, recently married, and my wife and I had been living on the coast outside of Sydney (Wollongong) in a beautiful apartment overlooking the beach. Living in Walsall was quite a cultural shock for me initially, it was very hard to feel settled.

You joined us for approximately a week in July 2001 and went with us on a pre-season tour of Scotland where you played two games against Dunfermline Athletic and Livingston respectively. Can you recall what happened?

In actual fact, I signed for Walsall prior to pre-season starting. My trial at the end of the previous season with Bradford went really well and I was offered a good contract with incentives. My then manager of my team in Australia arranged for me to return to play in the Grand Final and stayed on with the agents to finalise my contract.

Following the Grand Final I was getting married, going on a two week honeymoon and then returning to Bradford to start pre -season and hopefully a good career in England. In retrospect I was naive, I should have signed the contract before I left. One week prior to flying to Bradford Jim Jefferies was sacked as manager and the new manager wanted me to go on trial again before honouring my contract.

My manager and the agents were able to give me four other options with clubs in the Football League. Walsall offered me a great contract without any trial conditions. My manager was keen to make some money and urged me to take the firm offer. Today I look back on that decision without regret. I was thankful to Walsall for taking the gamble and signing me, however I was bitterly disappointed that Bradford didn’t work out. I thought I made the best decision at the time for myself and my wife.

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Had you heard of Walsall before joining us?

Yes I had. I would follow the divisions of English football with some interest. I knew it was close to Birmingham and in the British midlands.

‘Dino has an excellent left foot and is a good crosser of the ball,’ beamed Graydon. ‘He is very much in the Paul Simpson mould and is an exciting signing for the club’. Do you agree with this assessment? Do you know who Paul Simpson is?

I’d be lying if I said I knew a great deal about Paul, however, his name was familiar to me, and after I researched him, I could see the comparison, except , he had an exceptional career in England and I didn’t! I wish as a younger player a coach had given me greater guidance on developing my right foot. My left is like many natural lefties, it is very good but my right was never good enough.

How did you get on with the other players and the manager Ray Graydon?

Ray and the players treated me well. I was a grown man and I knew that I had to earn respect from the players and manager. Unfortunately Ray didn’t really get to see me prior to signing and I don’t think I was the player he was hoping for. I never really felt like I did at Bradford and I could see that amongst the playing group. After a few trials in Europe you can tell when it is the right fit and things are going your way. Again, it is easy to look at this negatively but I feel that the club treated me well whilst I was there and made it easy for me to move on when I wanted to.

From Walsall you went to play in Greece but never settled there and soon went back to Australia, why was that?

I went to a club called Kalithea. My coach at Wollongong was given the job there and knew things hadn’t worked out for me at Walsall. I was always sceptical about the Greek league and players not being paid on time. It was beautiful in Greece, the football was more my style and I lived near the beach. If they were honest and timely in their payments I would have stayed. I laugh now because I knew what I was getting in to! It was another life experience and I got to play with two players from the Australian League, which was good.

Your most successful spell in Australia was playing for Wollongong Wolves where you won the National Soccer League in 1999/2000. You came back from 3-0 down but missed a penalty in the shoot out before Wolves were victorious. It is a famous game in Australia – what are your memories of it?

I missed a penalty, but I laugh because no one remembers the gem of a ball I put through for a great player, called Paul Reid, who slotted home the equalising third goal with 2 minutes left! I wasn’t meant to take a penalty because I had played with the opposing keeper , Jason  Petkovic, for five years at Adelaide City and I would take penalties before training for him. But, as what usually happens, the pressure was too much for some of the allocated penalty takers so I stood up. Again no regrets, I missed but it turned out OK in the end. The next year 2000/2001 I came off the bench in the Grand Final having returned from my trial at Bradford. Whilst it was great to win back to back titles, the Perth game is one that people still remember as one of the greatest comebacks in Australian football. It certainly was one of my most memorable games.

Watch Dino in action in the Grand Final

You also played for Adelaide City in the National Soccer League and the New Zealand team Football Kingz but never played in the newly formed professional league (The A-League) which started in 2005. Why was that? What was the standard of football like in Australia during your time there?

The standard is better now from a physical perspective but technically I think the game lacks players with great initiative and flair. In my era there were athletes but there were great ball players. By 2003, I’d spent two more seasons at Wollongong and my wife was pregnant with our first child. I had a degree in occupational therapy and I started to think about my future and the fact that football would not be around forever and if I put as much effort into something else could this provide for my family into the future? The A league started 2 years after I had stopped playing at national league level. I had just started my own occupational therapy business and I was 30. Whilst it may have been nice to try, I was content with how things were going for me at that time.

You had a dispute with Football Kingz over unpaid wages – is this what led you to try your luck in the UK? Are you a strong believer in Trade Unions?

Football Kingz was another great experience. Wynton Rufer was the coach who had a brilliant career with Werder Bremen in Germany, and I learned so much from him in a short time. They had financial problems and I needed to make a decision in a difficult time. Nick Theo the Wollongong coach was very keen for me to join the club and it turned out to be a great move for me in many ways. The players union was at its infancy in Australia at that time but they helped me enormously in my career. Players unions are important but like everything, there needs to be a good balance. Around the world the players unions have become very strong and in some ways the balance has seen clubs suffer at times. It is difficult to find the right balance in such an unpredictable and at times volatile world of football.

In 1995 you represented Australia in the World Youth Championship in Qatar. You played in two games as Australia got to the quarter finals. What are your memories? Did you know then that your captain, Mark Viduka, was destined for better things?

Playing in the World Youth Championship in 1995 was amazing. Qatar was hot and the conditions were difficult in the country at that time. We couldn’t really leave the hotel so we relied on the unity of the team to get us by each day, as I am sure it was for all teams then.

Mark ‘Vidukes’ was an amazing player then and we knew he was destined for greater things. I lived with him at 16 years of age at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. I then spent the next four years touring with the Australian team with Vidukes and other great players of that era. I remember when we first arrived at the AIS as fifteen year olds and Vidukes was a great guy but he was raw, tall and was homesick. He wasn’t the best player there but every day he would spend more time than any other player in the indoor football gym working on technique. You could hear him kicking the ball against the wall in his room until three or four in the morning. It would drive us nuts. He was talented but he worked harder than any other player there. I have a great deal of respect for him as a person because I saw his struggles and triumphs from a unique perspective. Over the years I would bump in to him every now and then and it was always like it was when we were young. He is a humble, introverted and loyal person, not to mention he wasn’t a bad footballer either!

I see you still turn out for a team called Bosa SC – how is that?

Bosa is an amateur team. I’m 40, reasonably fit and I still enjoy playing against 20 year olds. I often wish I had my football brain of today with my 25 year old body but I guess most football die-hards think the same. I have just been appointed player manager for 2016 and apart from coaching my son’s team, this is the first time that I have been interested in coaching. Work commitments didn’t permit me to play for four years but over the last six years I’ve enjoyed playing because there is no money involved and it is as pure as can be. I will play until I physically can’t, I started when I was four and football had given me so much in my life, it is very hard to give it away.

When did you first get interested in becoming an Occupational Therapist? Did you manage to combine your studies with your football?

I studied whilst I played at Adelaide City from 94 until 99. I combined them because football in Australia was only semi-pro then. It was hard at times but also provided me with balance – when one wasn’t going so well I had the other to focus on and divert me. It grounded me and enabled me to relax and achieve my potential in both areas. I have had my own private paediatric occupational therapy business in Adelaide for over 10 years. I love my work with children and employ fourteen brilliant therapists and admin staff. Seeing  and working with families and children with special needs is grounding, my life as a footballer was unbelievable but my work today is humbling and gives me a sense of purpose and drive.

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I can see you are a follically challenged man (like my good self). How do you keep your head from getting sunburned? Sun hat, factor 50 or walking in the shade?

We have a famous commercial in Australia that says ‘slip slop slap’ which basically means ‘put on lots of sunscreen, wear a shirt and put on a hat!’

Finally, do you ever look out for the Walsall results?

Funny you should ask, I had a look again last week. The web has made this so easy. I’ve watched them go up down and sideways over the years! I always wish them well and hope in time that the Premier League calls. My football career has taught me to appreciate the fans – they cry, rejoice, love, hate and live every moment of their beloved club (often long after the players have moved on). The people behind the scenes are often unappreciated and undervalued, it is a fault of human nature. Football at its purest is about freedom of expression, unity and a common goal. Hard to remember in this climate but every Saturday, for me, it still feels like I’m playing in the biggest match of my life!

Thank you for the opportunity to relive my brief time at Walsall. I wish the club and the fans a successful new year.

There you go then. The mystery of Dino Mennillo is finally solved. What an absolute gent for agreeing to the interview and The Gilbert Alsop wishes him all the best for the future.

Tom Bennett – The Forgotten Man

I was listening to Sleaford Mods on 6Music this morning and as I looked at the map to see where Sleaford was I saw the town of Boston, which got me thinking of Tom Bennett who left us to play for them. This set in motion another chain of thoughts that took in Dino Menillo and a whole host of other ex Walsall players after reading a chapter from this book. Before I knew it, my plans to make a roast dinner, sort my bills out, clean the house, apply for several jobs, learn another language and complete in a triathlon had disappeared in a Wiki Whirlpool.

But anyway, back to the main point. Tom Bennett. My main memories of him are leading us to promotion via the play-offs at Cardiff  – before becoming a target of the boo boys the season after – and regularly seeing him on a Wednesday night in Gasp! nightclub on Bridge Street knocking back blue WKD’s and smoking(!!).

Bennett first arrived at Walsall on loan from Stockport County (remember them?) on the first day of the Millennium when we beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at home. He played three games for us, which we all won and even scored in a cracking 3-2 victory away at Crewe. After being recalled by Stockport he came back for the last eight games of the season, scored two more goals (including an important goal against relegation rivals, West Brom) but couldn’t prevent us from being relegated.

His performances were inspired and really galvanised the team so it was an exciting day for me when I heard that he had signed on for next season. He became our club captain and was a virtual ever present as we were immediately promoted back to the Championship. However, I do find it difficult to recall any performances where he really grabbed the pace of the game and drove us forward like he did in those two loan spells. He was solid rather than forceful and become more of a latter day Roy Keane – someone who broke up the play- rather than the earlier version who would break up the play and drive the play forward.

The next season was one of struggle for Tom as the team were near the foot of Division One for most of it. He played in the majority of games up until February before being left out for a couple of games as Fitzroy Simpson and Martin O’Connor occupied the central midfield positions. By this time he had become a target of the boo boys because of his tendency to slow play down by only passing the ball backwards when we desperately needed some momentum.

It was a game against Barnsley at home on March 16th 2002 which proved to be the lowest point in his Walsall career and his last ever start for Walsall as he got himself sent off in the first half for two bookable offences. Thankfully Don Goodman’s efforts meant we managed to record a famous 2-1 victory.

Not one Walsall fan would have been sad to see him leave for Boston United in that summer and despite being our captain on that glorious day in Cardiff he isn’t recalled with much fondness when Walsall fans think of his time at the club. I think of him as a decent player who really impressed me with his first two loan spells because of his drive, nous and resilience but as he never seemed to recapture those performances he is often the forgotten man of those glorious Graydon years.

Walsall v Burton Big Match Preview

“Hello, hello, is this thing on? Walsall! Can you here me? I say Walsall, can you hear me? You can? Then lettttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt’sbefuckinghaveyou!!!!?!!!”

I am back in the game. I had been accidentally locked in the bathroom in the bowels of the Bescot and now here I am sauntering down the steps from the Director’s box, grabbing the mike from the pitch-side announcer (who was just about to introduce Darren Rogers to the crowd) and whipping the crowd into a ravenous frenzy. I have rediscovered my mojo and picked up a jaunty spring in my step. Walsall are sitting near the top of the summit of League One and both a local(ish), derby and a top-of-the-table clash await us, this coming Saturday.

Burton Albion. Never seen them before. A first time for me and a first time for Walsall I believe. I have been engaging in loads of banter with Paddy Considine on Twitter (the only celebrity Burton Albion fan I know) about the match. He personally told me (and all his other followers) that he was filming Peaky Blinders this week, so I asked him if he had ‘time to watch the Walsall v Burton top of the table clash on Saturday?’ The fact my comment went without reply didn’t prevent me from asking the same question an hour later and again the next morning. I thought it best to leave it after that but then by the evening, and fuelled by a couple of glasses of wine, I had changed my mind and asked him yet again. Twice. I then woke up the next morning feeling incredibly remorseful and immediately deleted all trace of the tweets apart from my original one, which remains, just as I go to press, unanswered. Anyway, like I said, top banter!

So, on to the football. What have we done right this season that we were doing so wrong last season? I’ll tell you something for nothing, I have been well impressed with our new right-back, Jason Demetriou (who won’t be playing on Saturday). Last year, I contributed my best ever Walsall XI to the Yeovil programme and I struggled for a right back before plumping for Wayne Evans. That choice was mostly nostalgic because he was right-back when I first regularly started to watch Walsall, but, I tell you what, that could well change the way this new lad has played.

Our new keeper, Neil Etheridge (who also won’t be playing this Saturday) is pretty good as well. And handsome too, although far too clean cut for my taste and a little bit ‘boy band’ if I’m being brutally honest. My all-time Walsall pin-up will always be Adrian Viveash. What a man. Swoon.

Anyway, I digress. Why have we improved so much? Well, I’ll tell you. Individually, O’Connor has been splendid, Henry is an exciting prospect (although not a left back in a flat back four) that adds pace to the team, Sawyers has been bloody awesome and added goals to his game, Bradshaw (and his ultra-tight shorts) has been fit and has been banging in the goals and Sam Mantom has gotten forward more from midfield.

As a team, we are more fluid than I have seen for a long time and pass the ball forward and commit more people to attack than we have previously done. We have changed systems to suit the game and become a lot less rigid in our style. Defensively, we have always been sound but now we are even better.

Of course, there are still problems: No proper right-back for this game, not enough quality in reserve, a lack of height and physical presence to defend and attack set-pieces and a broken speaker system in the family stand.

However, I will concentrate on the positive and will go wild with my prediction for this game and state that it will be tight one, with Walsall to nick a late goal to send us top of the league. Our aforementioned international absences won’t help us but don’t forget that Burton’s manager, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, is also away on international duty for Holland this week, so that will even things out.

Before I go, I would just like to send out an Esther Rantzen Hearts of Gold badge to all those people who helped me up after I fell down a very dangerous manhole type thing on Bescot Crescent. It is just before you turn right (as if you are coming from Lord Street) towards Bescot Stadium, via the car park. You have been warned!

My simply awful fall happened before the Chelsea game and the very next day I reported it to Walsall Council’s Transport and Streets complaint department. I have heard nothing back from them yet, but I will keep you posted if there is any compensation due and will contact all of you to willingly share a (very) tiny percentage of what is surely coming my way.

Season Preview 2015/2016

Is anyone excited about this forthcoming season? What is there to look forward to? For me, the highlights are trips to Burton and Coventry so I can edge closer to completing the 92. Other than that there isn’t much, apart from the hope of a cup run.

I started this blog four years ago when I was travelling around Argentina watching the Copa America. In those four years the best time was our unsuccessful run towards the play-offs in 2012/13 with Paterson, Grigg and Brandy, but apart from a first trip to Wembley and an away win over Wolves there hasn’t been much to get excited about.

I’ll still be there for the Oldham game though. Is it a sense of duty that keeps me going? Optimism? Spending time with my friends and family? A chance to watch a good game of football? It’s probably a combination of all of those things and because I simply have nothing else better to do.

I’m not optimistic about the new season. There wasn’t enough goals last season and the pre-season (as yet) hasn’t shown that we have gone any way to addressing those problems. So I am going to take a guess at us finishing 16th.

There you go, I am bored to bits with all this crap now. Apart from the prediction it was an almost pointless post, one that lacked any real passion, direction, thought and skill. They said to me the more you write the better you will come, but, looking back on my old posts, I think I’ve actually got worse. Nobody reads this guff anyway but I refuse to sell my soul and start writing rude things about Wolves fans, they’re all just people after all and they only live a few miles from us so are more than likely more similar to us than you would believe. If I did make up jokes about them I would get loads more visitors but as it is my viewing figures are so low they make ITV Digital seem like a good idea. In a way I am happy that nobody reads this as I don’t think I’ll be able to cope with the fame, the pressure of having to write a good post every couple of days instead of haphazardly as I do now. I stand firm, resolutely my own man. Refusing all offers for adverts. Fighting the man. I could be the first ever blog that has been closed down by the Internet for taking up too much space and not attracting enough visitors. I keep going though. I keep going in the vague hope that something will turn. I’ll get my lucky break. Get my mojo back. Something will happen. Anything. Please.

Anyway, in case you missed it, 16th is my prediction.

Walsall’s End of Season Review

Tomorrow’s game against champion’s Bristol City will see Walsall’s season come to an end. Any season that sees us finish mid-table and make an appearance at Wembley cannot be considered a bad one, particularly as we were flirting with relegation only a few weeks ago.

I did predict 18th and a P45 for Dean Smith but that ain’t gonna happen. However, for the period of matches that I saw – between late December and early April – we were a poor team with no penetration, playing tippy-tappy rubbish and conceding goals from crosses and set-pieces. Before that and since then things have been different however, so Smith deserves more time to spend money from the JPT run and the money from the Troy Deeney add-ons.

There will be changes next season as I thoroughly expect O’Donnell to move on to better things. Grimes, Benning, Preston, Heath, Roberts I expect to be released. Baxendale should be put up for sale. I would offer Bakayoko and Murphy six month deals.

So, what do we need next season? What we need most in the team is a couple of decent wingers, Cook had a disappointing season and Forde offered glimpses of his talent but wasn’t consistent enough.We need more goals in the team and they should be coming from wide positions as it’s clear that this isn’t something that is in Sawyers’ game.

As well as two wingers we need a big character – either a centre half or a centre midfielder – someone in the mould of Andy Butler, who we definitely missed this season.

Will Cain and Hiwula be there next season? Who knows? If they’re not, then they will definitely be missed and should be replaced with similar quality. Taylor has had a poor end to the season and doubts have to be cast over his ability to play an entire season, so there could be a need for another left-back, but apart from that, there shouldn’t be too many changes to the defence.

O’Donnell should be replaced by MacGivillary who has impressed me for the reserves and an old stager dropping down the leagues should come in as his backup.

I saw the final of the Walsall Senior Cup on Monday and it was the best Walsall match I saw all season. Rico Henry stood out as being the best player by a long distance, the only question mark about his future is what position he is going to play in. I have seen him play for the senior team at left-back and I don’t think that suits him. On Monday night he was left midfield in a 3-4-1-2 formation and he was far more effective there then at left-back. Kinsella in midfield and Murphy up-front also played well as we beat Chasetown 4-3 after extra time to win the trophy for the first time in our history.

Playing players out of position is a worrying trend under Smith. O’Connor was bloody awful at right-back when I saw him, the worst passer of the ball since Ian Roper but towards the end of the season at centre-half he has been our best player. Cook isn’t a left winger and looked better when playing up-front or on the right. Hiwula is a centre-forward not a left winger, Grimes has been asked to play across the midfield but is a centre-forward, Baxendale isn’t a winger at all but he has been shoehorned into that position and lost all his confidence as a player now. This is a trend I hope to see a lot less of next season.

The Gilbert Alsop player of the season produced only two real candidates; Richard O’Donnell and Tom Bradshaw. Bradshaw has scored over twenty goals in a stop-start season but O’Donnell has been our only consistent player so deserves The Gilbert Alsop player of the season award. I think the last time I gave out the award I gave it to Manny Smith and it’s all been downhill for him since then.

Onwards and upwards for next season. Hopefully, we will have a pre-season tour abroad and I can pack my cases for sunnier climes.

Walsall v Notts County Preview

After the damp squib of our Wembley performance against Bristol City, we followed it up with an even damper one against the inferior opposition of Chesterfield last week. We looked out of sorts, players were arguing among themselves (Purkiss seemed to get a lot of stick), we couldn’t create any decent chances, we effectively played with a man light as Baxendale’s confidence is shot to pieces and we are now conceding soft goals from corners. It doesn’t bode well for this fixture, does it?

Fortunately for us, Notts County are on a rubbish run of form as well, so this game is an ideal opportunity for us to get back to winning ways and stave off any talk of relegation.

So, what will Walsall do to get back to winning ways? Will it be 4-4 freaking 2, with a big man (Bakayoko) up front and two pacy wingers? Will it be exactly the same team that played against Chesterfield? Or, will it be a normal 4-5-1 with a few changes to the personnel?

This being Dean Smith it will be the tried and tested (and failed) many times 4-5-1. The team will look like this:

O’Donnell

Purkiss

Taylor

J Chambers

O’Connor

Mantom

A Chambers

Forde

Morris

Sawyers

Hiwula

So the only changes from last week will be Morris coming in for Cook and Morris playing on the left-wing and Sawyers coming in for Baxendale and playing in the hole.

Personally, I would like to see two up front with Bakayoko partnering Hiwula and also Cain partnering Mantom in midfield. Sawyers can come off the bench if needed later but we need to go for the win today and any of the tippy tappy larky that we have been playing lately will only result in the crowd getting restless and destroying the confidence of the players. 4-4-2 doesn’t mean long balls into the box it just means we can get the ball forward a lot quicker instead of the slow build up that we have, which doesn’t suit the skill level of the players (Sawyers aside) and is not helped by our awful bobbly pitch.

Throw Morris in from the start as he is quick, young and full of confidence (whereas Baxendale and Cook are not) after a good loan spell at Wrexham. He can get the ball into the box and with two up front there should be more players actually there to win a header. Bakayoko is a big man who puts himself about a bit. His cameo against Leyton Orient really impressed me a few weeks ago – he deserves the chance today.

Mantom and Cain in the middle together may seem too attacking but Chambers doesn’t ever want to bring the ball forward these days (except for 45 minutes against MK Dons when he was excellent). These two will have more energy and are more likely to provide a goal than Chambers. I would also have Liam Kinsella on the bench today. I saw him for the reserves against Wigan and he was excellent in midfield, snapping away and also being creative at the same time.

Out full-backs should be encouraged to push on more as well and when they do get to the edge of the box there will be someone to cross to rather than having to check back and start the move all over again.

I am looking forward to today’s game now, my own preview has got me going. I only hope Dean Smith reads this blog, I know he is a regular reader of Bescot Banter but they have a bigger budget than me and place far more emphasis on their production value. For today only, at least, lets get back to the meat and potatoes, Mike Bassett style football instead of the motorway service station prawn sandwich attempt at continental tiki-taka style football of late.

Walsall v MK Dons – In-depth Tactical Analysis

A rousing second-half wasn’t enough for the Saddlers to gain three points but it did mean our best performance in many weeks.

There was no Michael Cain in the squad, and not a lot of people knew that, until the teams were announced. Sam Mantom was back in the middle instead. James Chambers on the bench, Jordy Hiwula on the left – the rest you all know.

The first-half was reasonably equal with Tom Bradshaw taking advantage of a goalkeeping error to head home. Will Grigg got MK Dons equaliser and was a threat throughout the first 45 minutes. There were two or three times he got the better of Paul Downing only to be flagged offside and had a questionable handball claim go against him after he had rounded O’Donnell. The goal came about from a cross from the left that Purkiss should have done a lot better to stop. It was all too easy. There was also a good shout for a penalty as Andy Taylor unnecessarily tripped a MK Dons forward. Mantom was anonymous.

The Walsall midfield didn’t have any grip at all in the first half but the second half was entirely different – it was all Walsall. Adam Chambers was superb and almost scored a rare goal. He was getting the ball of the defence and bringing it forward (as opposed to O’Connor bringing it forward against Leyton Orient) whilst Mantom sat in the middle and came more into the game. Sawyers linked everything up well but has no goal threat so it’s all too predictable – you know he’s going to pass instead of shoot. He had a great chance in the first-half but his finish was very poor.

Hiwula isn’t a winger, he is an out and out forward, we looked a lot better when Forde came on at the end as he gives us real impetus, and Murphy deserves a chance down the left-hand side.

It was more encouraging today and definitely more entertaining than what I have recently seen.

Bring on Wembley!

Walsall Reserves v Morecambe Reserves – In-depth Tactical Analysis

What a scorcher of a day, eh? I walked an eight mile round trip to see this game. I saw canals, flowers, graffiti and the M6 toll road as I crossed two counties (West Midlands and Staffordshire) from my home in Pelsall to the venue of Chasetown FC.

Anyway, first things first. We lost 2-0. It wasn’t all that bad though as I got to see Roy Whalley (ex-Commercial director for the Saddlers), Dean Smith (the gaffer) and the BBC Midlands Today presenter, Ian Winter. This – with the addition of a live and kicking Nelson Mandela – is also my ideal dinner party guest list, so you can’t imagine how happy I am right now.

Walsall lined up in a kind of 4-3-3 formation:

GK: MacGillivray

RB: Kinsella

LB: Probert

CB: K.Rowley

CB: Preston

CM: Mantom

CM: Delaney

CM: Heath

LF: Bakayoko

CF: Jones

RF: Murphy

Morecambe scored on the stroke of half-time from a free header from a corner. Defensively, we were all over the place as Morecambe ran us ragged for the first half as they also hit the bar and caused our keeper to make some impressive saves.

The second-half was a very good game with Walsall dominating the play and Morecambe hitting us on the counter attack. Murphy hit the base of the post with a turn and a shot and that was the closest we came to scoring. Morecambe scored from one of their breakaways as Walsall stood still waiting for an offside flag that never came.

It was good to see Mantom back in the team but he didn’t really do much to warrant a return to first-team action. I would have liked to see Bakayoko given a run down the centre as he was isolated on the left (and also on the right when he switched with Murphy) but when he did get the ball he was a real handful.

Murphy was the pick of the outfield players as he really ran at the defence and caused them a lot of problems. He didn’t have much support though so he was often running into blind alleys.

The trialist, Jones from West Brom, didn’t do much but looked tidy. Kinsella was good in the first-half at right-back, trying to support the attack, but I think he should have been marking the scorer of the first goal from the corner.

Man of the match goes to MacGillivray who pulled off four or five good saves and tried to marshall our shaky defence.

£2 to get in though! I thought it was free!!!!!!