Following Saturday's npower League One visit of Hartlepool United, columnist Calum Williams shares his Match Report; Walsall’s final game of November was to be a home fixture against a lowly Hartlepool United, on a wet and windy day at the Banks’s Stadium. The Saddlers were looking to end their run of 13 games without a win, a record bettered only by the visitors, who had gone a whopping 18 games without victory, with only 8 points on the table.
Walsall were boosted by the addition of lively Chesterfield striker Craig Westcarr, although he was only given a place on the bench. Hartlepool made 3 changes from the side beaten by league leaders Tranmere mid-week, Austin, Walton, and Poole all coming in.
It was Walsall who made a much better start, Febian Brandy causing the Pool’s defence problems, and laying the ball off to Sam Mantom, who’s first shot was blocked, and a second parried out again by keeper Scott Flinders. Soon after, Brandy got a good connection on an inviting cross from the right, but his header bounced off the soggy surface, and missed to the left of the goal.
The Saddlers continued to pile on the pressure, with youngsters Brandy and Paterson being largely involved in the play, and both having shots wide. Further pressure saw Jamie Paterson again involved, this time directing a curled free kick straight into the hands of Pool’s keeper Flinders.
Hartlepool then got their first break of the half, a poor back-pass to Walsall keeper McCarey saw him forced to make a challenge on experienced striker Scott Howard who had stolen the ball, and the referee rightly pointed to the spot, and showed the Saddlers keeper a yellow card for his troubles. The penalty was slotted home by Oliver Norwood. A weak shot sent McCarey the wrong way, and Norwood showed what it meant to him and his team, by smashing the ball in the net a second time, and celebrating with his jubilant team-mates.
GOAL: Walsall 0 Hartlepool United 1 (Norwood PEN 29’)
That was Hartlepool’s first shot of the game, but the Saddlers carried on playing as they had done in the first 30 minutes, creating more chances. A corner fell to Sam Mantom who drove the ball into the danger zone, but Scott Flinders got down well to gather the ball into his grasp.
More attacks saw an Ashley Hemmings header go wide, seemingly dangerous crosses from Paterson and Brandy evading everyone in the box, and Flinders spilling a Saddlers corner before gathering at the second attempt. But in a half where Walsall had dominated, had 57% of the possession, and had 14 shots on goal, they failed to score, and allowed a poor Hartlepool side to lead at the break.
HT Walsall 0 Hartlepool United 1
Walsall brought on Craig Westcarr to bolster their attack, and started the second half as they had started first, with more attacking play earning a corner early on. The ball was whipped over by Jamie Paterson but was too deep for the men in the box. The ball fell to Richard Taundry who drilled it back in, Will Grigg’s shot was saved at close range, before Walsall’s big number 5 Dean Holden tapped in a much needed equaliser for the Saddlers.
GOAL: Walsall 1 (Holden, 49) Hartlepool United 1
And Dean Smith’s men certainly weren’t finished there. Westcarr who started out on the right wing put a dangerous ball into the box, which Pool’s defender Peter Hartley attempted to clear, but he spooned it marginally over the crossbar.
Walsall looked increasingly wasteful with their attacks, throwing away corners, and not making the most of their possession, Richard Taundry the next player to blaze a shot over the bar. In the final 20 minutes, the game did look more open, with Pool getting into the game more, but still failing to get a noteworthy opportunity.
Pool played a high line, which Walsall looked to exploit. Febian Brandy continued to look dangerous, and got arguably his best chance of the game late on. He managed to weave his way around the Hartlepool defence, but found himself at a tight angle, and couldn’t convert his shot, which flashed across the goal, and out for a goal kick.
The Saddlers continued to pressure Hartlepool but, in truth, never really looked like scoring, which has been the story of the past 2 months. Frustrated Walsall fans booed off their side at full time, which was probably harsh on the players, who had dominated the game from start to finish.
So what now? Walsall have the loan striker fans have asked for in Craig Westcarr, but relied on a goal from a full back to save them a point at home, against rock bottom Hartlepool United. 20 shots with only one goal simply isn’t acceptable from the Saddlers. Febian Brandy and Jamie Paterson caused problems, Will Grigg and George Bowerman featured in the game too, but none could convert.
The Saddlers slip into 19th place in the table, but still don’t look like relegation candidates. The only solution I can think of, is that the squad needs shooting practice, and lots of it! It’s easy to jump on the ‘Dean Smith out’ bandwagon, but neither his tactics nor his signings are the reason we find ourselves without a win in 14, it’s ultimately down to the miss-firing strikers. The Saddlers next face Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena on the 8th December. F/T: Walsall 1 (Holden 49') Hartlepool United 1 (Horwood PEN 29') ATT: 4,562 REF: I, Williamson MOTM: F, Brandy By: Calum Williams