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Analysis: Walsall need something to build on – and quickly!

Turning things around at Walsall was never going to be a quick, straightforward process for Michael Flynn.

Danny Johnson (Owen Russell)
Danny Johnson (Owen Russell)

A summer overhaul consisting of 19 signings – albeit one of those was swiftly sent back – was always going to take time to come together.

Equally, it would have been completely fair to expect a better run of results from the Saddlers so far in League Two.

For all of the change, it seems the same old issues are continuing to plague Walsall.

The rot that has lasted a few years at Bescot now is dragging on and there is a growing number of supporters resigning themselves to yet another season of struggle.

After all, the manner of this loss to Tranmere Rovers – conceding a 95th-minute winner to make it 11 without a victory across all competitions – summed up the Saddlers’ recent history to a tee.

There was not a great deal to shout about before the late sucker-punch from Elliott Nevitt brought on an all-too-familiar losing feeling. The sad thing is that it felt inevitable.

It has been said many times before but, hopefully, things improve sooner rather than later.

Flynn does need time to get Walsall firing to the point where they can be a force in the division.

One of the promoted teams from last term in Exeter City, for example, had been competing at the top end of the table for several seasons before finally going up.

Matt Taylor has been there since 2018 and eventually rewarded the hierarchy for their patience.

Still, this stretch cannot go on for too much longer.

The new-look group, who have inherited the same problem seen for the majority of last season in lacking ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch, need to address the slide and show why they were recruited.

Fingers crossed, this run will be looked back upon as just teething issues after an extensive rebuild over the summer.

But these next few weeks are of the utmost importance.

Flynn needs wins in the short term for his long-term project to come to fruition.

The Saddlers went with an attack-minded starting XI as they made three changes from their last league outing – the 1-0 loss at table-toppers Leyton Orient.

Jack Earing was rewarded for his bright Papa John’s Trophy outing at Cheltenham Town in midweek and given another start, with Tom Knowles and Peter Clarke also in from the off. Manny Monthe dropped to the bench against his former club alongside Isaac Hutchinson and Brandon Comley.

Tranmere, meanwhile, had former Saddlers winger Kieron Morris among their substitutes.

Walsall took a noticeably direct approach early doors and were focused on getting aerial balls into the box to ask questions of the Rovers defence. Clarke threw himself towards a long throw-in but ended up giving a foul away.

Tranmere centre-halves Dynel Simeu and Jordan Turnbull, in the main, did a fine job of mopping up anything that came their way. Simeu seemed especially comfortable as the travelling supporters sang his name.

The Saddlers struggled to put together a sequence of forward passes as Tranmere got settled. The two sides were competing well enough but given the lack of creativity from both, it was hardly a surprise to see it remain goalless going into the break.

Tranmere made a change for the second period, introducing familiar face Morris at right midfield.

His first contribution was to foul Earing and give away a free-kick in a dangerous area and from that, Knowles’ low delivery was headed well wide by Johnson.

Straight up the other end, the away side had a decent chance as a quick counter-attack ended with Josh Cogley’s near-post effort being saved by Owen Evans.

The Saddlers were forced into a change towards the hour mark as Earing was replaced by Liam Gordon. A tactical switch soon followed as Williams went off for holding midfielder Comley.

Gordon’s presence at left wing gave Walsall some proper width and pace, and he was proving to be a threat. He drilled a ball across the face of goal towards Johnson – Simeu just beating him to the punch – before almost getting on the end of Knowles’ slide-rule pass.

The hosts were building momentum and saw Allen go close, with his goal-bound attempt stopped by Ross Doohan.

The Saddlers’ shortcomings so far this campaign, though, were summed up in added time. Jacob Maddox snatched at an opportunity to win it for Flynn’s men as he blazed high and wide. And in the dying seconds, Tranmere sealed the three points. Morris took aim from 20 yards and while Evans made the save, substitute Nevitt was there to head home on the rebound.

A trip to Stockport County comes up next for Walsall and a win is desperately required.

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