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Analysis: Walsall are still suffering from new year hangover

Walsall have had worse performances than this, but another defeat adds to the lacklustre nature of the Saddlers’ season.

Walsall skipper Joss Labadie hits the ground under pressure from Mansfield Town’s Stephen McLaughlin
Walsall skipper Joss Labadie hits the ground under pressure from Mansfield Town’s Stephen McLaughlin

The 2021/22 campaign is in danger of fizzling out – if it has not done already.

Matt Taylor’s Walsall remain winless in 2022. They have also only won one of their last eight outings across all competitions.

Again, this display at Mansfield Town was not on the catastrophic level seen the previous weekend at Stevenage – the Saddlers had the chances to get something.

But there is a growing feeling that the campaign is going nowhere.

Walsall are 15th, nine points off the play-offs, and are yet to show any evidence they can bridge that gap.

The Saddlers can perhaps take heart from the turnaround Mansfield have enjoyed.

Having won this game 2-0 thanks to a double from half-time substitute Harry Charsley, they are now in the play-off places having been faltering at the wrong end of the League Two table just a few months ago.

Walsall, however, still have not put together back-to-back wins, let alone six in succession.

Patience, understandably, is starting to wear thin for some fans, and they want to see signings.

Tyrese Shade rises high to head the ball towards the Mansfield goal

At least a couple are needed to boost the mood in the short term and, as far as the season is concerned, give them a better chance of achieving something – or at least set themselves up for next term.

There is a general air of malaise at the moment.

To bring the feel-good factor back, they simply need to pick up points more consistently.

Fans are not asking for the earth. The near-900 who made the trip to Field Mill and the rest of the Saddlers faithful just want something to smile about.

Walsall have a tough run of fixtures ahead – Exeter City the visitors this coming weekend.

They need to get some momentum behind them, though, and stem the tide.

The Saddlers have hit a wall. Their character, resolve and quality is being put to the test. Hopefully, they can come through it.

For this game, they brought in Tom Leak for his first league start under Taylor at centre-back. Tyrese Shade and Emmanuel Osadebe also came in, while there was a notable absentee.

Otis Khan – who the club have been trying to get tied down to a new deal in recent weeks – was not in the matchday squad, with Taylor later insisting it was due to illness.

Conor Wilkinson and Zak Mills dropped to the bench, which again included Liam Kinsella.

Mansfield almost netted inside the first 10 minutes. Jordan Bowery lobbed the ball over Carl Rushworth but did not get the required power, and Leak was on hand to make a goal-line clearance.

The inexperienced defender – thrust into the spotlight amid Manny Monthe’s FA ban and Ash Taylor’s departure for Scottish side Kilmarnock – enjoyed a solid start.

Walsall were doing well enough on the whole, too. The boggy, bobbly pitch did not lend itself to fancy football, but the Saddlers were battling and organised.

They created the odd half-chance – Shade drifting inside and dragging a left-footed shot wide of the near post.

The Stags, meanwhile, were proving dangerous from set pieces. Stephen McLaughlin had a header from a corner blocked by former Mansfield man Hayden White.

Carl Rushworth claims the ball

Oli Hawkins then nodded wide, and Walsall needed to weather the storm. While perhaps riding their luck at times, they had managed to keep the hosts at bay going into the break.

They could have even nicked a goal as well, with Miller forcing a fine stop from Nathan Bishop.

The Stags moved the imposing Hawkins from central defence to centre forward – as they often tend to do – for the beginning of the second period.

Then came a crucial couple of minutes.

The Saddlers almost went in front as White found Miller with a perfectly-weighted through-ball. He beat a few yellow and blue shirts, and shot-stopper Bishop with his strike, but was denied by George Maris.

The midfielder got himself in the right position to bravely block Miller’s shot, and Mansfield soon reaped the benefits.

Almost straight up the other end, Elliott Hewitt’s long throw-in had Walsall in disarray, and Charsley pounced by hammering home.

The Saddlers soon had Rushworth to thank for a series of smart stops, thwarting Hawkins and Bowery to keep up their hopes of a late leveller. But as the Saddlers pushed, they were undone on the counter-attack.

Charsley and Bowery linked up, and the former finished beyond Rushworth. The Stags’ rise up the table carries on. For Walsall, meanwhile, the slump continues.

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