This time of year it is common to pick up a number of ailments. For those regulars at the Bescot, one of them certainly isn’t cup fever. The game on Saturday was a stark reminder of how far this football club has fallen in the past few years, given that we were huge underdogs to the mighty Oxford United.
The game itself confirmed what most of us know already. If we cut out the silly individual errors then we are a very good defensive unit. When we cross the half way line we are bereft of any sort of creativity, especially when Wes McDonald is left out of the side. That creativity is probably the difference between a top and bottom half league two side. Given the state of our defence, providing Clarke can keep them all at the club, I’d be more than happy for him to spend next years budget solely on forward minded players.
On the topic of Cup fever, although it’s never struck a chord with the fans in its current iteration, it’s good to see the Check a Trade/Johnson’s Paint/LDV Vans Trophy games being used as a way to build momentum and try new things. The ‘reward’ is a trip to Wembley, but following the win against the grandchildren of the Chelsea pensioners, the club pocketed £20,000. That might be key in what could be a crucial January window.
I can’t comment on the actual football last Saturday because I didn’t go, so I’ll move on to the usual matters - matters that I’m starting to bore myself by having to mention every single week.
Walsall Football Club has long been accused of existing purely as a commercial entity that places too little focus on the footballing side of things. This club is now failing at being even a basic commercial entity, forgetting the fact we’re 22nd in the fourth division.
Bars closed after the game on Saturday, reports that the Bonser Suite was only open to pass-holders after the game - basically no place to get a drink out of the cold after a miserable afternoon.
Reports of merchandise being out of stock in the club shop, with a 6-7 week lead time on new orders - a month before Christmas. What are we playing at here? How can you get things this wrong? Thousands in lost income yet again - the responsibility of a club that is endlessly banging the drum about needing bigger attendances to boost said income.
This isn’t a complicated geopolitical trade negotiation. It’s flogging some pies and keyrings once a fortnight to a willing, captive crowd of punters with cash at the ready.
I have a dream of a Saturday where Walsall secure a solid and deserved home win, everyone gets a ticket, a pint and a pie without issues or endless queuing and I can buy a new scarf without having to wait until it’s too warm to wear it for the order to come through.
Surely this isn’t too much to ask?
I don’t use these words lightly, but I absolutely hate the bastardisation of the Football League Trophy.
It was never glamorous, but it was genuine. A proper cup competition just between the 48 lower league teams. A competition that most of those teams could enter with a realistic chance of making a final, a prestigious Wembley final no less.
It lost all that, its integrity, its relevance, its soul, the moment the Premier League bribed EFL clubs to allow in their junior teams. And for what? A few competitive games for the kids they don’t rate highly enough for either their first teams, or indeed to send out on development loans.
It’s an unfunny joke.
The argument that our clubs now benefit from the extra money is flawed too. What do they spend it on? More and higher wages for players. If all the clubs had refused then all the budgets, at all the clubs, would be reduced. We’d end up paying the same pool of players less.
No one would go out of business or be less competitive.
It’s a nonsense that is benefitting no one. Least of all, us fans.
Whilst disappointing to go out of the FA Cup the big positive is that a solid base held a free scoring Oxford side out for so long and this will certainly set us up in good stead if we can continue this for the rest of the season. Whilst Saturday was not a good example the forward play is starting to look more dangerous as well and hopefully we can climb to safety in the league and really start the rebuild to getting back to League One level even if it was not an instant return.
The EFL Trophy game against Chelsea U21 was no easy ride and they have a youth side that most lower league first teams would be jealous of, so to knock them out after going two down and scoring three will only breed the confidence of the squad.
The competition may not be popular but the prize money for progressing certainly will be and we must take advantage of this now as anything we can gain is invaluable to us in our current situation and hopefully better days are slowly returning piece by piece.
So the last seven days haven’t taught us anything new really.
The Oxford game showed how far we have fallen from the beginning of last season as it was evident there was a massive gap in overall quality. That said, we did well to contain them for as long as we did.
The game vs Chelsea Under 21’s was a good watch, they had some great players who we should try and loan (if you don’t ask you don’t get) and dare I say Gaffney has his best performance to date in a Saddlers shirt, let’s hope he can continue that moving forward in League football!
Now we are back focusing on the league with a tough game vs Port Vale and if you told me now we’d get a draw I’d take it given their recent home form. I don’t think there will be too many changes again, and it seems as though Clarke has a good idea of seven or eight players who are guaranteed to play when fit now, which is a good place to be at for stability and moving forward.
For Christmas, could we sign Wes McDonald to a longer contract please Walsall? We could develop him into something very good I feel!
Onwards and (hopefully) upwards!
Slowly but surely, we’re getting there…hopefully!
There was no disgrace in Saturday’s defeat against a very good Oxford side, although it does show just how far we’ve fallen having beaten them a number of times over the past few seasons. I didn’t attend the Chelsea game, fair play to those that did, but I still hate the fact that Premier League U23 sides are involved. This cup has always been about lower league clubs being given a chance to progress in a competition that leads to a Wembley appearance and the involvement of these sides just makes a mockery of the reason it was set up in the first place back in the 80s (Freight Rover Trophy possibly?).
The fact that there are a number of these sides in the knockout stages at the expense of League 1 and 2 clubs is just not fair and is the main reason why attendances in this competition have dwindled to record lows for many clubs over the last couple of years. If we progressed further would I attend? Possibly… Every Walsall fan wants to go and see their team when they can, but the attendance of 941 this week shows that fans really aren’t that bothered at this stage of the competition.
The two games in the past week demonstrated the progress in the last couple of weeks. In the FA Cup we came up against the form team in the EFL and gave a decent account of ourselves against Oxford almost getting a replay.
We have to remember we are no longer a league 1 club and Saturday demonstrated how far we need to go to get back to where we want to be. Tuesday night against the Chelsea kids we battled back showing the players determination and probably there willingness to play under Clarke.
A month back I think we would have crumbled and suffered what would have been an embarrassing loss, but we stuck to our task and move on. If we keep on playing how we are we will move up the League 2 table and fears of relegation will subside.
Really hope CCM’s injury isn’t too serious, he has took full advantage of his chance in the first team. Wishing him a speedy recovery.
We don't make it easy for ourselves do we! We may not like this competition, but the club are certainly using it for their benefit. Each round sees more money for the club, and that is how teams like ours manage to survive, and increase transfer budgets.
The previous game against Forest Green gave us a confidence boost, and after that, we saw the team put together a string of results, and since then we have only lost once, which was against a team in the playoffs of the league above. DC has used the competition to try out a couple of new things, and it has proved to be helping with developing partnerships. Players like Alfie Bates and CCM have both featured in this cup and have developed by playing in it.
Surely now, as this is the only chance at a trophy, we should get behind the team and try and see them book a place at Wembley.
I wish a very speedy recovery to CCM, he has been fantastic this season and it would be such a shame to see him side-lined after such a promising last few games.