Back to reality or just a blip in the dream?
Expectation falls just as quickly as it rises after Saturday’s defeat to Carlisle fractured Walsall’s momentum.
It leaves the Saddlers facing the questions which had been refreshingly needless as they bounced along. Can they last the pace? Was the early form a one-off and, ahead of Sunday’s derby at Shrewsbury, how do they recover?
The last-minute meltdown which saw Liam Noble condemn them to back-to-back defeats is hardly the way to prepare for a triple header against local rivals.
Dean Holden and Karl Darlow will have better days after the pair contrived to toss a point away at the death. In the end, Carlisle edged an open game which could have gone either way.
Had George Bowerman connected with Florent Cuvelier’s second-half cross it would have been the Saddlers celebrating. Instead it means the ‘I told you so’ brigade will be out for Walsall. Those who expected the bright start to fade will knowingly nod, satisfied with their foresight.
Boss Dean Smith will expect it and they have a point, of course, now losses to Leyton Orient and Carlisle have stunted the growing momentum.
Disappointing, disenchanting but not despairing, yet, as Walsall search to rediscover the formula which served them so well before. The reality is they had a bad week. Two winnable League One games yielded a big fat zero but it’s not a reason to panic.
It happens and, while Walsall were far from their best on Saturday, the nature of the developing teams means days like that are almost inevitable.
The players will be shielded from the barbs and, as Jamie Paterson forcefully stated post-game, will not take much notice to voices outside the dressing room.
It will be the true test of their character. The nature of defeats will hurt, in neither did they perform well enough to win but losing was a cruel blow. They can play better and they will have to – starting with tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy visit of Port Vale.
It begins a run of three clashes with near-neighbours, including the big one with Shrewsbury on Sunday.
The Saddlers have reacted to defeat before and they will be expected to raise their game against Vale, Town and Crewe. The fans will demand it but it works both ways and the team should expect to be backed to the hilt.
As Smith stated beforehand, nine games does not make a season and two defeats will certainly not break it.
The excellent Nicky Featherstone aside, Walsall were not their usual effervescent selves and the sloppy nature of Noble’s late winner was unfortunate, bordering on careless. It shouldn’t have happened but it did. Move on and start again.
The Saddlers were unchanged again and a scrappy start gave way to a wonderfully-worked 16th-minute opener from Paterson.
Will Grigg on the right fed the bustling Florent Cuvelier to tee-up Paterson to sweep in after Bowerman’s clever dummy.
Briefly, the Saddlers threatened and Bowerman forced Mark Gillespie into a low stop before Matt Robson scuttled one wide and the other end. It was a warning shot Walsall didn’t heed, though, as Joe Garner levelled with a neat finish.
It was what the dangerous United deserved and after reaching the break without further damage Richard Taundry replaced Purkiss to combat Robson’s threat.
The Saddlers almost regained the lead when Cuvelier’s low cross just evaded Bowerman. It was the end of the striker’s involvement as Febian Brandy replaced him but the change couldn’t spark the Saddlers.
Carlisle, fresher and sharper, had been probing and Noble struck the post after the leggy hosts failed to close him down.
But worse was to follow as the Saddlers imploded at the death. Holden’s back-pass put Darlow in trouble and his poor clearance was pounced on by Garner who fed Noble to win it.
This time it was the Saddlers’ turn to hurt after last weekend’s late win at Bournemouth. Swings and roundabouts.
By Nick Mashiter