Just when it looked like Dean Smith had cracked it, Coventry City arrived to ask more questions of Walsall’s home form.
Franck Moussa’s 54th-minute goal was enough to give the Sky Blues a just-about-deserved derby victory and deny the hosts a third consecutive League One win in a derby clash which never quite lived up to its billing.
Walsall’s wins over Stevenage and Swindon and the visitors’ free-scoring reputation had many anticipating plenty of goals.
Instead it was a game which merely fizzed nicely without ever quite sparking into the thriller it was hoped to be.
Depending on your viewpoint, it was either an unlucky defeat for the Saddlers in a tight game or another toothless home performance in which they again failed to over-stretch the visiting goalkeeper.
Undoubtedly though, the defeat will spark further discussion over the Saddlers home form, which had been somewhat quelled by last Saturday’s victory over Stevenage.
It is now three defeats in seven games at the Banks’s this season, compared to four wins in seven on the road.
In one sense Smith’s side were on something of a hiding to nothing after their spectacular win at Swindon on Tuesday. Any defeat, no matter in what circumstances, was always going to hit harder than normal given the heights reached in that particular performance. It certainly contributed to the sense of frustration around the Banks’s at the final whistle, though it would be wrong not to pay tribute to the visitors too.
Steven Pressley’s side harried and harassed the hosts from the word go and were the better side in the opening half-an-hour. While the Saddlers did work their way into the contest, they never quite had the visitors on the back foot at any stage. What they lacked, not for the first time at the Banks’s this season, were chances.
Not that either side had too many during the course of 90 minutes as neither keeper was overly-exerted. Smith was adamant his side should have had a penalty when visiting keeper Joe Murphy pole-axed Ashley Hemmings in the second half. Aside from that, Murphy’s only other notable work in the game was tipping a Craig Westcarr free-kick round the post.
Focus will fall on Smith’s decision to stick with the same team and formation as Tuesday, despite the fact playing three in central midfield has not served them well at home this season and particularly given Romaine Sawyers’ performance in last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Stevenage.
In truth Nicky Featherstone, the man who so often makes way when the Saddlers revert to a 4-4-1-1, was among their best performers. Yet it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sawyers, who has impressed whenever called upon this season but can’t seem to find a regular starting place. Given the nature of Tuesday’s win, it’s also easy to see why Smith decided not to change things but it could be argued the Saddlers should be looking to be more positive at home.
It was Moussa who had the first real effort on goal when he out-muscled James Chambers on the edge of the box and curled a shot just wide of the far post.
The Saddlers got little change out of the visitors in the opening half hour but enjoyed their best spell of the game in the 15 minutes before half-time.
Sam Mantom pulled a first-time shot wide of the far post from a Hemmings knockdown before Westcarr tested Murphy with a free-kick from the edge of the box, after John Fleck had been guilty of handling an initial setpiece while stood in the wall. Mantom and Andy Taylor then both saw shots deflected wide.
But the Saddlers could not maintain the pressure early in the second half and conceded when Leon Clarke rose highest to meet Carl Baker’s corner. His header was brilliantly kept out by Richard O’Donnell but Moussa was on hand to steer home the rebound.
Baxendale then failed to test Murphy after being sent clear when he appeared to get his legs tangled and the only other on-target effort of note from the hosts was a Sawyers shot straight at the visiting keeper.