While there’s already been a fixture that we’ve wanted to win more, Saturday’s trip to Orient has to be considered our biggest game of the season writes Saddlers' blogger Mark Jones.
Leyton Orient’s eight wins out of eight is mightily impressive. They seem to have a side full of players proven at our level and more importantly they have a squad with plenty of goals.
But sooner or later that 100% record will go and who better to crash the party than the Mighty Saddlers? I mean it’s not as if we haven’t got a good track record in that department is it?
Which I think has brought me neatly back to the events of Tuesday 17th September 2013. I’ve thought long and hard about how to approach our magnificent 1-0 win over our fellow League 1 neighbours.
Do I taunt and mock? Do I just treat it as another 3 points? Or do I simply marvel on a phenomenal away performance against our rivals? In the end I decided on the latter.*
For the whole 90 minutes plus the seemingly endless stoppage time, Walsall were magnificent, every player not only knew their job but executed it almost to perfection. It was a thoroughly professional performance of the highest quality.
And it was no backs-to-the-wall, smash and grab. The Saddlers bossed possession overall, at one point just before the break the percentage was 67-33 in our favour … away from home … against a top three team on a 5 match winning streak in the league … with squillions of pounds of parachute payments!
In addition to keeping the ball, we created chances throughout. Twice we hit the bar, Romaine Sawyers may well have done better with a one-on-one if he hadn’t looked for the lino’s flag and what was going on with Carl Ikeme’s juggling act?
I mean I’ve seen keepers get their bearings wrong and misjudge their position (Jimmy Walker a couple of years ago, the Tottenham keeper the other week); I’ve seen keepers handle in desperation knowing they’re on a certain red card but I’ve never ever seen one chase the ball out of his area then deliberately play the ball in full view of the ref and still not prevent a goalscoring opportunity.
How much per week is he on exactly?
The decision to accommodate Nicky Featherstone, Adam Chambers and Sam Mantom in a three-man midfield in the comfortable, satisfying and long-overdue win the previous Saturday was an inspired one by Deano.
Unlike in previous games, including the JPT injustice at the Graveyard a fortnight earlier, this system seems to allow us to play further up the pitch. It was pretty effective at Crewe and even better in Wolverhamperton.
Richard O’Donnell’s burgeoning reputation was enhanced by a couple of mighty fine saves in the first half and how far did he come for that cross in the closing seconds? Andy Taylor was pure class yet again and I’m sure James Chambers returned Bakary Sako safe and sound when he cleared out his back pocket.
But the man who epitomised the entire night was the match winner himself, captain Andy Butler who, if he wasn’t already, is now a fully-fledged Saddlers Legend.
Make no mistake he is as important to our style of play as anyone, without the steel that he brings to the team we wouldn’t have the platform for our sexy football.
Andy plays the game and wears our shirt the way any of those of us who packed out the away end and sung our hearts out would play; and although I can’t speak for anyone else, I strongly suspect I’m not the only one who secretly fantasises about being Andy Butler for the day.
I now have a record of three wins, two draws and two defeats on my visits to Wolverhampton, plus a Youth Cup win in 1990. As the two defeats came under Colin Lee, I won’t class them as official Walsall XIs, which means that he’s the only ‘manager’ to have lost in open play at the Molineux for over 100 years.
So the Ginger Mourinho joins Alan Buckley and Sir Ray Graydon as architects of that trio of victories. Exalted company indeed and it’s no exaggeration to say that Dean deserves to be mentioned in the same bracket these days.
The win and the subsequent celebrations were naturally immense but, as hinted earlier, it was just one game, a fantastically phenomenal game sure, but it was one game. The legacy of our performance was drawing level on points with the team in sixth and moving within three points of our hosts.
The trick now is to carry on developing through the winter months. If when the next Black Country derby comes around, a win puts us within touching distance of the play-offs then we’ll have had a massive season. Those Eastend boys won’t know what’s hit ‘em.
* … but I couldn’t resist some of the former either. So I’ll leave the Kevin Doyle minorclass, the amount of money Jenny paid Sheff United for Kevin MacDonald - who replaced him with Flo for a fraction of the cost, Mr O’Hara’s ever-expanding bank balance or Twitter; or indeed Steve Evans or the Wilf Grigg money (the initial fee is a little on the low side IMO) for future episodes.