Let’s make one thing very clear, Walsall’s humiliating 5-1 thrashing at Coventry had nothing to do with poor refereeing, writes Saddlers blogger Mark Jones.
It did however have everything to do with a team who looked as if they just didn’t want to play, either for themselves, for each other or , crucially, for the manager. And they certainly weren’t playing for us fans.
It was a game which could have been billed as the Battle of the Teams Who’ve Made a Real Botched Job of Moving Grounds and Now Struggle to Cope Because They Pay Too Much Rent and Get Very Little in Return. A bit of a tongue twister for sure but you get the point . . . which is more than we were ever likely to.
What was really frustrating was that Cov didn’t have to work that hard to beat us, which is quite apt given manager Mark Bobbins’s aversion to graft in his forgettable 12 months as a player with us. All over the pitch we were second-best, making errors that weren’t even good enough to be classed as schoolboyish; and you could see the lack of discipline that lead to the captain’s sending-off brewing up about an hour before it actually happened. One to discuss on his next refereeing course perhaps?
Leaving two on one from a short corner, failing to close players down, giving the ball away when there were simple passes on, not playing to the whistle - these are all basics that have nothing to do with the wider issues of budget restrictions and poor leadership at the club.
There was only one positive and that was our support. If the 1,414 home fans that turned out for the Lincoln debacle were an indication of the new lows that the current regime have inflicted on the club; then the thousand plus Saddlers who travelled to the Ricoh, despite their high prices (£10 to park? £10?), despite it being just before Xmas and despite us having gone 14 games without a win, show that people do still care but in every respect we are being short-changed.
Most fans stayed with the team long after the self-destruct button had been pressed, and those that left early or vented their frustration on the players and management were doing so out of sheer exasperation.
We’ve never really had a huge rivalry with Cov, largely because our paths haven’t crossed that often. Which is probably just as well as the previous league meeting ended with a 6-1 thumping too.
Indeed last Saturday’s drubbing had a number of parallels with that game in January 2004. Then as now we were into the third season with a manager who had taken the credit for keeping us up, who’d plodded along just above the relegation zone the following year without really kicking on, and was now watching on as what was very much his own team seemed to be disintegrating in front of his eyes.
OK, so there are some differences, the Great Escape of 2011 could hardly be put down to luck, being in the right place at the right time or the work of the previous boss. I’m sure that Dean would love to get his hands on the (relatively) large funds that were available in those days and we never had any t-shirts printed for the odious Mr Lee (Which is a pity really because I could’ve come up with a few slogans).
However the club refused to act quickly or decisively back then when it was blindingly obvious that change was needed and only relieved the manager of his duties when it was far too late and the damage had been done.
Not that I actually think that changing the manager would be the magic wand that I suspect some people are hoping for.
The big picture for the club will still be one of a huge decline; but 15 winless games and increasingly shambolic performances dictate that tough choices and unpleasant decisions have to be made.
The way things are going it’s unlikely we’ll need to get too worked up about the Sky Blues again in the near future. Right now things are looking much more Pirelli than Ricoh.