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Analysis of Walsall 3 Brentford 2

Sport | Published:

Forget what you know, forget what you think – just get ready for the ride.

Forget what you know, forget what you think – just get ready for the ride.

Please keep your arms and legs inside the stadium at all times, make sure your balti pies are put away and seats are in an upright position.

It's unlikely to be enjoyable, it will be tense and there's a chance of a rough landing but one thing's for certain – it will be a hell of a trip.

Walsall's 'Great Escape' has had more twists than a spin doctor's phrasebook and none more so than against Brentford last night.

In another thriller which had most supporters reaching for the scotch, the Saddlers dug out a rollercoaster win which could prove priceless.

Afterwards, manager Dean Smith felt more composed than most in the Banks's Stadium but it would have been tough to keep cool, as Walsall put their fans through the wringer again.

The teams at the bottom have jumped in and out of the League One drop zone like a game of relegation hokey cokey but, with five matches left, Walsall are the ones with their heads above water.

Dagenham & Redbridge's 4-3 defeat at Brighton and Notts County's 2-1 loss at Yeovil allowed them to leapfrog the Magpies and the inactive Bristol Rovers into 20th spot.

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Yet they did it without finding top gear. For long spells in the first half another Plymouth no-show was feared as the Saddlers continued from where they left off after Saturday's south coast disappointment.

Only Jon Macken's 40th-minute thunderbolt turned the tide following Pim Balkestein's opener.

It has become a recent trend of Walsall's to be reactive rather than proactive and one which they cannot continue.

Too often, the Saddlers have waited for a jumpstart, in a haze of performance amnesia, like they are not sure when to start playing.

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Better teams won't stand for it and, with more riding on each game until May 7, neither will Smith.

As it is, though, three points are more welcome than performances and set the tone for the final countdown.

Smith has always insisted Walsall's home form will be crucial. Under his stewardship the Saddlers have played 10 at the Banks's Stadium won five, drawn three and lost two.

Now, with three home games remaining, they have a chance to decide their future – starting with already promoted Brighton on Saturday, who could clinch the title with victory.

Three wins would leave them on 52 points – over the recognised safety mark of the last few years – but with such a tight fight no-one can predict who, how or when clubs will survive.

Dagenham, Notts County, Bristol Rovers, Tranmere, Swindon, Plymouth and the Saddlers are all scrapping for safety – making results like last night all the more important.

Smith handed Sunderland loanee Jordan Cook his first start in a shake-up which saw recalls for Richard Taundry and Macken.

The biggest surprise, though, was the first-team return of Clayton McDonald – who hadn't started since the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Fleetwood in November.

There was no place for Manny Smith – taken out of the firing line following Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Plymouth.

But the changes failed to raise the Saddlers from their self-induced slumber, as Brentford retained possession with only a small degree of menace.

The Bees failed to create anything from open play but were allowed to dictate thanks to the Saddlers.

Sloppy passes and slapdash marking contributed to the visitors' opener, when an unmarked Balkestein nodded in Sam Saunders' corner on the half-hour.

A lifeless performance needed a spark and the Saddlers found it five minutes before the break, with a rocket from Macken.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Walker – in his 500th Walsall appearance – launched a clearance to the edge of the Bees' area which was nodded down to the hitman, who let fly from 30 yards and found the corner.

It highlighted the value of the ex-Manchester City man, a striker who shouldn't only be judged on his eight-goal return as his sheer presence and workrate offers enough.

Macken gave the Saddlers a platform and Cook then sparked a rush of three goals in seven minutes, rattling in his first senior strike from 12 yards on 57 minutes.

It was the fuel the home side needed but they imploded on 62 minutes when Brentford levelled.

Taundry, under no pressure, mis-kicked 20 yards out and Lewis Grabban pounced to round Walker and slide in from the angle.

But instead of panicking the Saddlers hit back within two minutes, when Macken bundled in from close range, after goalkeeper Simon Moore spilled Julian Gray's angled drive.

Cue battle stations as Walsall dug in. But Brentford, despite threatening, couldn't find a late leveller.

And so Walsall's survival bid is alive again. Just don't expect it to be simple.

By Nick Mashiter

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