It seems like I am stuck in a time-warp when watching Walsall play away from home. For the last ten years I have been summing up these games with the following sentence; ‘Lost. Would have been more if it wasn’t for Wacka’. Even though tha sentence holds true for today, I will attempt a better analysis.
Smith started off with the standard 4-4-2; Walker; Beevers, Smith, Butler, Saddler; Patterson, Taundry, Chambers, Hurst; Grigg, Macken. That is the last time you will see the names of Taundry and Chambers as they were both completely anonymous throughout the game, because the midfield was completely bypassed.
Instead of passing through the middle of the park, it appeared that Smith and Butler would be our designated playmakers. This is all very well if they have the passing range of Glenn Hoddle and Siniša Mihajlović, but they don’t, Smith in particular has the range of Ian Roper as not one of his passes hit the intended target. When any player managed to get possession the plan seemed to be hit it behind Colchester’s full-backs and chase after the ball or whack it to Mack(en) for him to hold the ball up. Neither of these tactics worked and the latter tactic failed because Colchester were by far a physically stronger team and Macken was simply knocked off the ball every time he got it.
The game was extremely congested in the first half as both of these photos show.
This meant that nobody had any time on the ball and whoever used their possession better would make the breakthrough. It was Colchester who did this as a simple through ball resulted in Walsall’s defence being caught flat-footed and Butler conceding a penalty and getting a red card.
This meant that Lancashire came on for the ineffectual Patterson to move into the back line with the midfield three spreading themselves across the park. This change meant we then had a bit of possession with Hurst being the most impressive on the ball, however, the ball never stuck when it went forward and Colchester would always soon be attacking us.
In the second-half we played better than in the first but there was still no bite up front which meant that Grigg was inexplicably replaced by Westlake, meaning another change in formation to 4-4-1. This made matters even worse as Macken had no energy left to make any runs and he stayed on the pitch ten minutes too long before being replaced by Jarvis.
The last tactical change was to push Smith up front but as he is so small (he struggled against the much taller Colchester centre-forward, Kayode Odejayi, all afternoon) he did not help at all and the 3-4-2 formation was just as ineffective as the others.
Walker made 3 or 4 great saves and Saddler improved a lot in the second half. At one stage Saddler made a great off the ball run that would have sent him clear but the man with possession failed to spot him and the attack broke down before it even started. Those are the only two players to come out of the game with any positives.
Colchester were not great but they were certainly better than Walsall and deserved the victory. Dean Smith cannot be accused of not willing to change things when they are not working as we tried four different formations today. But the worrying thing is that they were all so ineffectual that it is difficult to remain upbeat after a game like this. We need to give Chambers and Taundry a chance to prove that they can pass the ball because the long-ball game certainly isn’t working.