Analysis: Sloppy errors add to the tale of Walsall woe
Toothless, disjointed and lacking confidence – that is where Walsall Football Club stand right now.
It’s now three losses in a row. The poor showing against Salford was followed up by the capitulation against Leyton Orient.
And now an in-form Cheltenham side have left the Banks’s Stadium with a win, without having to play to their best.
They wanted it more.
Cheltenham were bigger, faster, stronger and took their chances.
It’s easy to say that fans deserve more, but at this rate they would be happy with a loss – but with a spirited and hard-working performance.
At the moment, they’re getting neither.
Individual errors have cost Walsall dearly in the last three games, with four mistakes in those matches leading to opposition goals.
Dan Scarr miskicked the ball against Salford and Danny Guthrie let the ball run against Leyton Orient – both resulting in important goals for their opponents.
Against Cheltenham, Walsall went a step further and made two errors, gifting them both their goals.
Liam Roberts has been very solid between the sticks this season, but he looked low on confidence.
His kicking was off all game and he didn’t trust himself to distribute the ball quickly.
His error, dropping the ball from a corner, allowed the visitors to open the scoring and he never looked the same after that.
Similarly, it was an elementary five-yard pass that allowed Cheltenham to break quickly and score their second.
Liam Kinsella overhit his pass to Alfie Bates and they never recovered the ball.
The errors compound an already poor performance, but it’s excruciating that easily avoidable situations are resulting in goals.
Meanwhile, another week meant another formation for Walsall – and it didn’t work.
Darrell Clarke has made it clear, and shown us through his team selections, that he isn’t afraid to shake up the squad and change formations.
This game, however, felt like an experiment too far with the 4-3-3 formation.
Wes McDonald and Josh Gordon didn’t do anything particularly wrong playing in the wing positions, but against a 5-3-2 Cheltenham team the defensive line was consistently being broken.
The space behind McDonald and Gordon wasn’t being occupied by Walsall midfielders and Cheltenham playmaker Ryan Broom consistently got himself into those positions.
He was able to run at the defence and cause problems for Gary Liddle and Cameron Pring in the full-back positions.
Changing the system every week has its positives.
The squad can be adaptable and flexible.
It gives the team a chance to tackle each side they face and treat them as a new project.
But there comes a time when a team needs continuity.
The 4-4-2 formation was used throughout the four-game winning streak and the players had that continuity.
Of course, tactics must be changed to suit every opposition, but springing a new formation on a team every week surely isn’t the answer.
This is League Two, not the Premier League.
Alongside that, two key players missed this loss and the team felt it.
Centre-back Dan Scarr was unavailable due to suspension, while midfielder Danny Guthrie has been nursing a niggle over the last few weeks.
They have both been instrumental for the side in recent games.
During the winning run Scarr was immense in the middle of defence.
But the last few weeks he let his standards slip, so the rest may be good for him.
However, for the side, it was a huge miss.
He has a large commanding presence in this team, he wins everything in the air and is a strong, versatile defender.
It’s no secret, too, that Walsall are a better side when Guthrie plays.
He has that extra bit of quality on the ball that no other Walsall player, particularly in midfield, has.
Guthrie offers something different to their other midfielders and the statistics show that when he plays, they tend to win.
Two players who came into the side, however, had contrasting afternoons.
Cameron Pring came straight into the starting XI after a month out with an ankle ligament injury.
Many people felt that bringing players back from injury, and introducing more competition for places, would be good for the team.
But Pring looked scared to make a mistake. He was devoid of any confidence and often misplaced the ball. It was unlike him.
Alfie Bates, however, proved a better pick.
The 18-year-old wasn’t afraid to take a chance.
He looked for the ball, he didn’t hide and he wanted to play.
It didn’t always work, he made some mistakes, but fans will forgive that if a player tries.
Perhaps other players in the squad could learn from the youngster and buck up their ideas before it’s too late.