Chris Marsh: Ups and downs of survival fight at Walsall
The battle to stay in League One has become a game of snakes and ladders.
Win – like Walsall did against Fleetwood – and you shoot up the table.
Lose – like we did against Portsmouth – and you slide down that snake right towards the relegation zone, writes Chris Marsh.
It’s not great for the nerves, but I think it’s going to remain like that until the end of the season.
For me though, it was absolutely imperative Walsall won that game against Fleetwood last weekend.
Everyone knows the run of fixtures we are now in with Sunderland, Barnsley and Doncaster following that Portsmouth match.
But it would have been awful heading into those games on the back of a defeat to the Cod Army.
The players knew that, Keatesy knew that and that’s why I hope he treated himself to a cigar on Saturday night.
That was a proper, proper result.
The Portsmouth game was really unlucky. Performance-wise, the Saddlers probably did enough to earn a draw. But they conceded three poor goals – all of which were down to individual errors.
Centre-backs Dan Scarr and Jon Guthrie needed to be better for Pompey’s second and third goals.
But the penalty given away by Morgan Ferrier was just ridiculous. He just didn’t need to do it.
Kenny Jackett’s side had only won one of their last 10 league games before heading to the Banks’s.
But Ferrier’s push gave them a needless headstart. He can’t be doing that when we are fighting for our lives. I don’t know him personally, but I hope he apologised to his team-mates and manager because that wasn’t good enough.
Now it’s on to Sunderland, which is going to be an incredibly tough game. Barnsley is going to be just as difficult. And, for me, it’s all about damage limitation.
I’m not saying we can’t go the Stadium of Light and win – we can and have done once already this season.
But with the budgets both Sunderland and Barnsley have at their disposal, it’s going to be incredibly tough.
The important thing is the players give everything. I’d take two draws now.
But even if that does push us closer to the bottom four or if we even end up in the relegation zone, the important thing is not to panic.
Ever since that Bradford game, the Saddlers have been excellent. We are getting back to that form we showed at the start of the season.
And whether we win, lose or draw against Sunderland and Barnsley that’s what the players need to remember.
Doncaster are a good side, their league position proves that. But I think they are there to be got at.
And then the seven games after that, on paper, look more manageable.
The target for me is to give everything to try and get something from the next two. And then kick on and hopefully end all this relegation talk.
Finally this week, Andy Cook has now served his three-game suspension. And for me, he has to come straight back into the side for the game at Sunderland.
Josh Gordon has stepped up and played really well in his absence. But now I’d like to see them together.
It might mean changing the 4-3-3 system. Or moving Gordon out wide. But Cook has to play. He has scored 16 goals in a team that has struggled.
And for me, he is just too important to leave out.
Walsall have played some decent stuff over the past fortnight and he is comfortable with the ball to his feet.
But if you are struggling, if it is backs-to-the-wall, then you can knock it long to him. He will hold it up.
I think it would be a mistake not to put him back in.
He’s the type of character that is always desperate to play so the last few weeks will have been tough for him.
And of course he is a boyhood Newcastle fan, so he’ll be even more desperate to score and prove a point.