Saddlers social: New boss and a new style after a busy Walsall week

Following Walsall’s 1-1 draw away at Stevenage, the first point for Brian Dutton as manager, the Saddlers Social columnists have their say on a busy week at the Banks’s Stadium.

Saddlers Social
Saddlers Social

Rob Harvey

What a week it’s been, it’s never boring being a Walsall fan is it?

To start the week we had the departure of Darrell Clarke who decided his career was best served by moving a few junctions up the M6 to Port Vale. At the time it appeared to come as a bolt out of the blue, but when we heard from Leigh Pomlett you got the impression that him leaving was on the cards one way or another anyway, so the fact that Port Vale have paid compensation for him is a bonus for us.

It’s fair to say that his ‘project(s)’ didn’t work out with us, but at least he came in and stabilised a rapidly sinking ship last season, arguably anybody could have done that but he did it and I suppose that’s the only good thing to have happened with him in charge. I can’t wish him any luck at Vale though after how he has left and the team he has left us for.

Clarke leaving has left us with his old assistant Brian Dutton in charge. Now, a lot of people have been jumping on this straight away with the ‘he’s never played league football’, ‘he’s not old enough’, etc., but not all successful managers are a) old or b) ex-league players.

Let’s give him a chance until the end of the season and see what he can do for us. In terms of the way he interacts with the press and the information he is willing to divulge he is already better than Clarke. He’s had two games in charge now, with limited time to work with the squad and you can already see he has his own ideas as to what will work for us. We’ve already started to pass the ball a lot more than we used to, which is nice to see even if errors are occurring. If we can maintain this style of play it should become second nature at some point to the players and we will see this transcend into decent results hopefully.

As mentioned, we’ve had two games with Dutton in charge, the first of which was Tuesday night against Cheltenham. Overall we were below them quality wise, evidently, but the way we played and the effort we put in cannot be faulted and it was nice to see Caolan Lavery score a great goal early doors. I had us down to be drummed heavily, so to lose 2-1 was better than expected.

Saturday against Stevenage was frustrating to say the least, we scored after 14 seconds with Lavery shutting down their goalkeeper and sliding in to deflect his kick into the net and you wondered if we could go on and score a few more but in the end we had to settle for another draw.

This wasn’t helped by having to spend 35+ minutes playing with 10 men after Liam Kinsella saw red for a tackle that was asking to be punished. It was a frustrating day as we should be punishing teams like that especially after the early goal, but again our overall quality just wasn’t there and in the end we had Liam Roberts to thank for escaping with a point.

Finally, it was great to see Roberts pull off at least four high-quality saves on Saturday. He comes in for a lot of stick from Walsall fans sometimes, some of it deserved, some of it very harsh, but on Saturday he was by far our Man of the Match.

Also, it is nice to see Lavery starting to prove his doubters wrong. He has been written off by a lot of Walsall fans, but with an extended run in the side hopefully we get to see him firing on all cylinders. He’s looked a different player the last two games and long may it continue.

I know it’s hard to be optimistic at the moment, but we know as Walsall fans that something good will happen at some point so keep the faith and keep supporting the lads.

Up the Saddlers!

Nick Etheridge

Never a dull moment is there? Off the field at least anyway!

I don’t think anyone saw the departure of Darrell Clarke coming and it remains to be seen if the move is a good one, for him and for us. I was equally surprised that Brian Dutton took the reigns until the end of the season as I fully expected him to move with Clarke. This could potentially still happen, time will tell.

One thing that is certain is that the squad Clarke has left behind is unbalanced and lacking in quality. It should be noted that although his comments would make you think differently, the blame for this falls firmly on the shoulders of our ex manager.

Dutton deserves credit for trying to give us an identity and style of play that we lacked in the previous regime but it’s going to take a while before we see any real consistency. The trouble is that the longer Dutton is in temporary charge, the less likely we are of keeping our better players next season.

The longer it goes on, the likelihood of a full rebuild is on the cards. Both on Saturday and Tuesday last week we succeeded in keeping the ball on the floor, but still miss the creative hole left by Rory Holden. Hopefully the long term plan for Dutton doesn’t revolve around one player, and he can find some kind of winning formula from what he has at his disposal.

James Kenealey

Meh. Like many fans, that’s the noise I’ve predominantly made towards all things Walsall FC this past week. Be it our manager bailing out or the predictable defeat to the impressive Cheltenham, a club who continue to show us how we should be doing it at this level, it’s been a whole lot of ‘meh’. And that’s without watching the Stevenage game.

When Clarke took over in 2019 he was pretty much given a carte blanche with most of that poisonous 18/19 clan already packing up their Herbalife boxes and heading for the door. As Pomlett himself said at the time, “every player Darrell wanted we went out and got”.

It follows then that with little transfer activity at the end of last season, the squad that we currently have (themselves producing performances that are the very embodiment of ‘meh’) is of Clarke’s own design. Hearing his assessment that the squad he has inherited at Port Vale is far superior was truly wonderful to behold, and I’m not sure he or many others in Burslem registered the self-own.

And how the champagne corks popped as the red carpet was unfurled all the way down the M6 in celebration of the absolute coup of poaching a manager whose W/D/L record of 25/25/26 in the fourth tier at Walsall could most flatteringly be described as ‘disappointing.’

I’m not sure what they think they’ve snapped up there but their scouting must have been limited to only watching our games against them. It’s also fun to watch Vale fans try to laud it over us that he’s made the move to a ‘bigger club’ – one that has failed to occupy a place in a higher league than Walsall in over 20 years and has frequently occupied a place in the one below.

What you’ve done there is pay twice the asking price for a tired old car with a month left on its MOT that the owner was about to bin off for parts. Great bit of business guys, enjoy it.

Chris Saunders

So Clarke has moved on and Dutton has got the seat until the end of the season and I am ok with that. Dutton’s first game showed both he and the players want to play football a bit more and whilst mistakes were made we did look better at trying to clear our lines against Stevenage.

Whilst the new style has definitely not clicked yet, I am not going to criticise as its small steps towards the right direction but it is going to take a lot of time. This may involve a churn of players in the summer and some luck with the recruitment however if it makes games more entertaining longer term I am all for that.

Back to Stevenage and while we need to improve all round I thought we were going to settle and take three points after Liam Roberts pulled off some fine saves but Liam Kinsella’s red changed the game. Whatever you think of the referee’s decision he simply didn’t need to slide in that area of the pitch and ultimately it has cost us.

I am willing to keep patience though and see if the team can adapt to playing more and match this with a higher press but we must give the team time to adapt after 18 months of fairly dreary ‘football’.

Roberto Petrucco

It was not the week we expected. The results have been disappointing, especially after taking the lead in both games, however, it was always going to be tough adapting to a new style.

I think Dutton is the man for the job, but I think he needs experience in the backroom. That is what made Dean Smith a better manager, by having a second in command who had years behind him. Dutton has big ideas, and the squad seem to be buying in to it, however it will take time to get the results on the pitch, and although he has spoken about the play-offs, I think that developing a style under Dutton is the biggest aim for this season.

Finally, a shout out to Cameron Norman. He played in four different positions, and gave his all in every single one. His work rate and energy was fantastic, and he deserves the praise for that.

Stuart Cox

Well it’s been an interesting week! The Clarke move seemed to come from nowhere but I have to say I’m not too fussed about him moving on.

We aren’t any further forward than were were at the start of last season and it just hasn’t worked out. I’m glad the chairman came out and set the record straight after Mr Clarke had had his first press conference at Port Vale as he seemed to suggest that there were financial issues that made him want to move to a ‘bigger’ club.

For me, the issues weren’t about the playing staff, it was about his inability to get the best out of them and get them playing a system that that knew in a position that they were best in. He can spout all he wants about ‘getting up in the morning wanting success’ - we all do Darrell - but in all honestly he has not delivered since he arrived.

I’m sure the ‘emotional conversation’ that the chairman referred to was more ‘heated’ than he was letting on and, reading between the lines, I think he’s glad that he’s gone.

Getting rid and receiving money for him in the process is a win-win for me. I hope Brian Dutton does well – in the couple of interviews that I have seen so far he has spoken really well and seems to be a calming influence. Must be that ‘moral compass’.

Saturday’s game could have gone either way. We didn’t really create much after a fantastic ‘blink and you missed it’ start and were indebted to Liam Roberts for keeping the score down. He made some fantastic saves and was rightly man of the match, but for me, Jack Rose is the better keeper and I was surprised he didn’t get the start on Saturday.

He must be wondering what he has to do (or what Roberts has to mess up) to get back in. In my eyes I cannot see what Emmanuel Osadebe and Caolan Lavery offer to the team.

Yes, Lavery has scored twice, but contributed nothing apart from this and looks lightweight every time he’s challenged. Osadebe looks no better than Sunday League every time I see him although there might be some magic in there somewhere that we haven’t seen.

I think we would have held on for the win had Liam Kinsella not been sent off. I thought it was harsh and, as the manager said, the reaction from their bench helped the ref to make the call. He will be a loss as he’s been my player of the season so far. Top seven is still there in the distance, but it’s going to need a ridiculous run of form to get there. Will we do it? Probably not, but you always live in hope as a Walsall fan.

Ian Newbold

Not many fans will miss Darrell Clarke, I certainly won’t. I backed the club in appointing him, I was hoodwinked too. There’s no great drama in his departure, he’s simply swapped being on borrowed time for three more years on a manger’s salary. More fool Port Vale.

Now for his replacement, I like the idea of an assistant who’s experienced both success and failure second hand. Sometimes witnessing the work, the successes and mistakes of managers close hand can prepare a person for the top job. There’s one fine example that springs to mind.

But who knows, there’s no guarantees and each story is different. However I’m no longer convinced that previous managerial success in this dreadful division is any indication at all of how ‘good’ a manager actually is.

Think it’s a reasonable plan to give Dutton the remaining 18 games to see if he can get a tune, or some better consistency at least, out of the squad Clarke took four transfer windows to assemble. He’ll know their limitations, and he might just know where his predecessor was getting things wrong. However with serious squad surgery required in the summer, earlier action may be necessary if it looks like it isn’t working. UTS.

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