Walsall’s only consolation will be to know that it takes a world- class strike to put them away at the moment.
Having given a rousing four-game response to their Banks’s Stadium calamity against Preston, the Saddlers’ home venue once more became a scene of disappointment as Bradford City inflicted a third league defeat of the season on Dean Smith’s team.
From a tough opening 10-match schedule, Smith is hardly beating up on his players for their 1.5 points-per-game return.
“When those fixtures came out and I looked at our start, I would have taken that without a problem,” said the manager.
But if the Preston defeat was the one which most concerned the manager, it will be this one which most frustrated him. His team had worked their way into the game after fighting off a powerful and menacing opening from Phil Parkinson’s in-form outfit; half-time beckoned, a chance to re-group for what was proving an absorbing contest.
However, the afternoon was changed by a memorable moment from Kyel Reid, an undoubted talent gone astray over the first half of a career which has already taken in eight clubs – Mick McCarthy had him for four games on loan during Wolves’ promotion season – since its launch at West Ham.
Saddlers full-back James Chambers had already produced some outstanding defending to restrict Reid’s impact but there was nothing he or any of his team-mates could do when the Bradford player strode forward from midfield and unleashed a breathtaking left-footer from fully 30yds which was still accelerating when it flew past Richard O’Donnell. It was a goal even Saddlers fans felt privileged to witness.
And before the home team had any chance to get into a second-half rhythm, the visitors had tightened the grip still further when James Hanson eluded the grip of Paul Downing and Andy Butler less than a couple of minutes after the re-start.
“Would I have taken the performance at half-time if we had gone in at 0-0? Yes,” said Smith. “You can’t do anything about the Reid strike – it was a wonder goal that goes into the top corner. But we could have done better about the second goal.”
That would be Smith’s only gripe, however, as Walsall produced a closing half-hour that finally stirred their supporters and might so easily and swiftly have pulled the game out of the fire.
Enlivened by a triple substitution on the hour that brought James Baxendale, Romaine Sawyers and Ashley Hemmings into play, the Saddlers allowed two glaring chances to escape in the 66th and 68th minutes – close-range opportunities met on the volley by Downing and Hemmings which were flayed high and wide of the target.
It would prove the difference between two teams who served up another reminder of the changing face of League One football which has left managers wondering if the division has ever been stronger.
Walsall remain determined not to fade away from their generally positive opening and within the camp fancy their prospects of making a more sustained challenge for the play-offs this season.
But with so many teams registering impressive early statements in the argument about who goes up, it isn’t going to be easy and the Saddlers public will tell you the team’s lack of power ‘up top’ is their biggest concern.
It was point highlighted by the performance of Hanson, a forward who proved more than a nuisance to Premier League defenders in Bradford’s Capital Cup adventure last season, and who gave Butler and Downing as taxing an afternoon as they have so far encountered – mobile, strong with his back to goal, powerful in the air but not without qualities with the ball at his feet either.
He is the one type of player Walsall do not possess. They improve substantially when Craig Westcarr goes into that area but for all his willing industry, Troy Hewitt is struggling to bring a goal threat to his football while Milan Lalkovic looked lightweight in the midst of Bradford’s high-energy, bustling football.
These may well be problems Smith will have to work around, rather than solve, in the coming months with the club re-investing 2013’s transfer in-comings and extending the contracts of key players while further developing the infrastructure.