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Analysis: Walsall fans happy to see the back of a sorry season

The 2021/22 campaign is done, and Walsall fans are happy to see the back of it.

Walsall player of the year Liam Kinsella in action for the Saddlers during the final game of the season on Saturday
Walsall player of the year Liam Kinsella in action for the Saddlers during the final game of the season on Saturday

Michael Flynn, of course, has provided an uplift and a sense of excitement over what could be achieved next term.

Still, the campaign as a whole will not be remembered fondly, and in a way, it was only fitting it ended with a dismal display and 3-0 defeat.

This loss to Swindon Town – who guaranteed a play-off spot, much to the delight of the 3,500 travelling fans – was in keeping with what had been offered up for large parts of the campaign.

The Saddlers, to put it in simple terms, have not been good enough.

Swindon picked them off with ease in this clash, and it acted as another example as to why Flynn is remodelling the squad this summer.

It also highlighted the extent of the work the Welshman has to carry out because the Robins, make no mistake, were levels above Walsall.

Having finished sixth ahead of a play-off semi-final with Port Vale, they are what the Saddlers aspire to be, and a major overhaul is needed to have any chance of emulating them.

Flynn reiterated afterwards how eager he is to get to work with recruitment as he said: “I can’t wait. We’ve already got four or five over the line, so I’ve started early.

“We’ve just got to crack on as there’s going to be a big overhaul.

“In a way, that result has helped me. If you beat Swindon and finish 13th or 14th, your judgment starts getting clouded, and you think ‘maybe these players can do it’.

“But the brutal truth of it is that they can’t. We’ve finished 16th, and that’s not good enough.”

Swindon had it all their way on Saturday afternoon.

It was a day with huge implications for the Robins, and if Walsall came flying out of the blocks, they could have potentially spoiled the party.

Instead, Harry McKirdy put the visitors ahead after three minutes, and they controlled proceedings from thereon.

By half-time, the result was a foregone conclusion as Jack Payne bagged a brace. It was all extremely straightforward.

The Saddlers played completely into their hands and – a consistent theme throughout the term – gave them a helping hand for all three goals.

In the second half, they probably should have pulled one back but – the same old story yet again – lacked any ruthlessness in attack.

Hopefully, those ever-so annoying traits disappear going into next season.

Before kick-off, Walsall handed out a couple of end-of-season awards as Liam Kinsella grabbed supporters’ player of the season for the second year in succession.

Carl Rushworth was also crowned young player of the season, and it must be said, both of those are thoroughly deserved.

Kinsella is a credit to the club while Rushworth, having impressed hugely while on loan from Brighton, appears set for a brilliant career if he continues on the same path.

Swindon were given a massive reception as the rampant travelling fans – taking up both the Community and University of Wolverhampton stands – aimed to help their side over the line.

They were soon in dreamland as well, with the Robins getting off to a perfect start and, ultimately, having it their way throughout.

Mandela Egbo’s marauding run from right-back saw him weave past a few red shirts and into the box.

Having cut in on to his left foot, his shot was blocked by Jack Earing. McKirdy, though, picked up the loose ball and rifled an unstoppable effort into the roof of the net.

The emphatic finish saw a few Swindon supporters run onto the pitch while some flares were also let off, and it was not long before they had another goal to revel in.

Payne drove with the ball from midfield and, for whatever reason, the Saddlers sat off.

Swindon’s No.10 had been invited to try his luck from 25 yards, and he duly picked out the top corner – Rushworth with no chance of making the save.

The Saddlers had their moments going forward as Tyrese Shade pulled a long-range attempt narrowly wide while George Miller’s overhead kick flew over the bar.

In the main, however, it had all become far too easy for the visitors.

They had more and more time on the ball as the half progressed, and they would add a third to put the result beyond doubt before the interval.

McKirdy charged into the box before Donervon Daniels mistimed his last-ditch sliding tackle and wiped out the attacker for a clear penalty.

Payne did the rest from 12 yards for his second and the Robins’ third.

Walsall were better after the break, but the outcome was inevitable.

So, a 16th-placed finish, and it at least puts the trend of finishing lower and lower every year to an end – the Saddlers were the only Football League side to have finished further down the pyramid for five successive seasons.

Fingers crossed, there will be more reasons to cheer next term and it does not prove to be another false dawn.

The Walsall fans just want a team they can be proud of. After years of frustration, they deserve it.

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