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.