Analysis: Walsall must sharpen up to avoid another season of struggle

It is by no means their only issue, but Walsall have a glaring weakness that must be eradicated if they wish to do well this season.

Tyrese Shade at the end of the match
Tyrese Shade at the end of the match

Matt Taylor’s side are 22nd in League Two after nine games and they won’t move much further up the table if their sheer inability to cope from set pieces continues.

Everyone will have joy against them as fellow strugglers Bristol Rovers did on Saturday afternoon – handed their first away win since last December.

The Saddlers are not being cut apart in open play, granted, but any side would happily pounce on the statuesque defending for both of Rovers’ goals.

Walsall have conceded 13 goals this term, with eight of those from set plays. It is a damning statistic.

Put under pressure in the final half an hour, the ensuing meltdown, worryingly, had an air of inevitability about it.

The away side had 10 corners and the Saddlers struggled to deal with any of them before the eventual comeback.

Assessing the goals, Stephen Ward was caught flat-footed at the front post for the first.

A flick-on then made its way to the back post where Ash Taylor, similarly, was beaten to the punch by namesake Connor.

And for the second, Brett Pitman was allowed to keep the ball alive and drill it across the face of goal, allowing Sion Spence – completely unmarked from six yards between the sticks – to make an easy tap-in.

Carl Rushworth, no wonder, made his frustrations known.

Supporters did after the final whistle, too, with a few boos ringing around the Banks’s Stadium.

The defending, or alarming lack of it, was entirely unacceptable.

After all, Walsall have lots of height and experience in their backline. It should not be the problem that it is and has to stop.

Of course, though, other factors are worth considering as well.

The Saddlers did not have a corner of their own all afternoon.

Kieran Phillips finished well in the first half while he, George Miller and Taylor had opportunities in the second period, but the attacking play was too one-dimensional.

Most of the time, the ball was clipped long towards Miller, who had three centre-halves to deal with.

The midfielders, meanwhile, did not have a great influence.

Without the energy that Liam Kinsella and Joss Labadie provide, Jack Earing and Sam Perry were unable to offer the same bite.

Full-backs Hayden White and Ward are still not giving Walsall much in an attacking sense either.

Injuries are also mounting up – Emmanuel Osadebe looking in a lot of pain after a heavy tackle and very much appearing set to join Kinsella, Conor Wilkinson and Rory Holden on the shelf.

So, all in all, the Saddlers have a lot to address, chiefly their defending from set pieces.

A failure to sort it out quickly could well result in another season of struggle.

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