Last night was a night of firsts for me.
Not only did I get to come home from work, fire the laptop up and watch Walsall away ‘on the tele’ thanks to iFollow, but I actually got to see our first team play this season. For numerous reasons I have not been able to attend a game this season in person, and ’til Blackpool at home on the 1st that will remain the case. Part of me is thinking I should just burn my season ticket now, and the let the lads carry on without me, it seems the absence of Oli is proving quite effective…
But it was not only the chance of actually seeing them play that had me excited last night. It has been you. The fans so far this season have been unrecognisable to those of last. The faces (or twitter avatars) may be the same, but the temperament and emotions of the Saddlers faithful has been quite something to behold. Like most of you, the week before the transfer deadline I was becoming a bit worried. It seemed we were heading into the season with a team not much better than those that have gone before under JW. In Deano we trust. A flurry of deadline day deals saw the squads quality and depth increase drastically, and the promise of something to get excited about was tangible.
It wasn’t long before the praise was being heaped on left, right and centre. ‘’We’ve got our Walsall back!’’, ‘’Fuck me we are good’’, ‘’Luke Leahy can shag my wife!’’… it was all so foreign to me. Without actually witnessing it myself, it was hard not to dismiss most of it as Keates-hysteria.
Then last night I got the chance to see this team with my own eyes. After the first 15 minutes, a quote from the film Gladiator had popped up in my mind;
Pace, passing, possession, aggression, composure- I truly was being entertained by a Walsall team. That has not happened for a long time. Just like Maximus in that scene, I felt like Walsall FC almost had a disdain for the opposition, and a point to prove to our own. Like the gladiator, we were speedy and aggressive, with seemingly 0 care in the world for the well being of our opponents. Our tackles were strong but fair, and the bastardry of Cook and Ferrier that has already progressed to meme status has filtered through the entire squad. When Morris netted that superb strike, I could feel the hysteria washing over me.
It was actually at that point that things started to go the other way. Credit to Wimbledon, they picked themselves up and started playing at a much quicker pace themselves, and we headed into a 15 minute period of end to end attacks and half chances here and there- a thoroughly entertaining fixture for the neutral. The last 15 minutes of the first half, almost all the way through to the Nightingale (hilarious) own goal, was dominated by Wimbledon.
But there was something different about the way we held ourselves. In this 2018/19 season, I’ll try to talk about Jon Whitney as little as possible, but I really do think a Whitney side would have caved under all that pressure. Yet when the men in red last night looked under the cosh, there was some stability and resoluteness there, where last season it felt so fragile.
You make your own luck, and our resolute defensive worked led to what will surely be the most hilarious own goal you will see for a while. A no-look first-time backpass to a goalkeeper who is not between the sticks. Perhaps not the most glamorous way to seal the three points, but no one is complaining. Pair that with an equally fortuitous third from Cook, after some quick counter-attacking from Kane Wilson, and the Saddlers were home and dry. Top Bastardry from the front two when celebrating that goal gives the fans everything we want. Long may it continue.
This season on the blog I’ll be picking a 5 a side team from the all those that featured as a way of highlighting who deserves praise and why. I won’t be worrying about positions or anything, just the best 5 on the day from the Saddlers (and maybe the opposition if we have a really shite day).
1. Josh Ginelly
Really exciting going forward, posed a threat every time he had the ball. What impressed me most though was his willingness to defend. I lost count of the amount of times I saw him literally sprinting back to our own half after an attack had broke down. A great quality and a showcase in a real team spirit. Personally he was my man of the match.
2. Luke Leahy
One of the best performances I have seen from him in a Walsall shirt, and arguably not even his best of the season from what other fans have told me. Luke unfortunately found himself in the fans ire more often than not last season, but he has already won many of them back over with some excellent displays. With Ginelly in front of him this season the Saddlers left hand side looks solid going forward and in defence. I’m sure Luke is looking forward to the next free kick opportunity on the edge of the box…
3. George Dobson
The Walsall Skipper put in an excellent display last night. He absolutely loves to defend and stick his body on the line, but the addition of Ferrier to the team has really helped showcase Dobson’s vision going forward. Some excellent balls forward paired with a really solid and hard-working defensive display earns him a spot in the 5-a-side this week.
4. Kieron Morris
We’ve been begging for two seasons for this lad to be put back on the wing. Surprise surprise, put him there and he looks twice the player and nets an absolute beauty. A great goal combied with numerous attacking runs gets Kieron in the 5-a-side. Zeli is probably one of the first names on the team sheet for most Saddlers, but if Morris can do what he did last night consistently he could be in with a shout.
5. John Guthrie
A proper centre half’s performance last night from Guthrie. Looked very solid and more like a leader than I have seen him before. Alongside Fitzwater, the pair have enjoyed many games alongside each other now and they seem to compliment each other perfectly.