If you have supported AFCB as long as I have you know that you must not start counting your chickens until they have grown up and started laying!
It would not be an easy task as Walsall have picked up well since they dispensed with Chris Hutchings as manager. There was so much despondency amongst the Walsall fans when they played, and were soundly beaten, at Dean Court that it was worrying for their chances so it has been pleasing to see the revival of our nearest opponents to my home.
The match turned out to be a lively affair, it seems that we do not possess the wherewithal at the moment to control matches. It may be that Bradders likes open football but it does not do us fans any good when it is both sides playing it. To keep winning such duels shows the spirit within the squad and that the luck is with us, generally, at the moment but that can soon change far too easily.
Walsall had the first opportunity when Gray sent a fierce shot wide. Symes had the ball in the saddlers’ net a while later, from Feeney’s cross, but was booked for putting it there with his hand. As the incident was at the far end of the ground it is hard to pass judgement but his protests were not that great. The ‘goal’ was, of course, disallowed. Pearce then thumped their bar with a header between the first and second of 3 saves by Shwan which increased in difficulty. The first was a simple stop of a long range shot, the second a full stretch dive to tip away a header by Butler for a corner. The third needs more explanation. Price’s header struck the post and Shwan’s dive to attempt to save this resulted in him ending up in the corner of the net. The ball rebounded to Macken who had to spin to shoot. Not only had Shwan managed to get to his feet but he managed to react and dive to block the attempt with a precise save as opposed to just blocking it. Macken, for one, stood there in disbelief. Part of the formula to gain promotion is to have a top quality goalkeeper performing at their best and, at the moment, this is what we have.
There was still time in the first half for Smith to bomb forward, again, but this time he let fly from 30 odd yards which veteran ‘keeper Jimmy Walker could only palm upwards on his first attempt to save it. Unfortunately he easily caught the ball unchallenged when it came down. Symes also had a long range effort but this went wide. Nil nil at half time was more by luck than judgement and we had at least our fair share of the match.
Within 7 mins of the restart we were ahead. The old favourite step over corner routine at last came up trumps. Pugh’s corner was dummied by Feeney as usual with Smith speeding up from the back as the intended recipient. However, Symes had drifted out from the goal and intercepted the ball and shot with his left foot which went in off the post. Good job really but improvisation is a great virtue for a striker. Danny Ings had 3 chances to increase our lead but twice drew a save from Walker with the other attempt, a lob, drifting wide. The number of chances that he misses is unfortunate but we have to remember his age and that he has been thrust into the first team perhaps a season earlier than desirable and at least he is getting into the positions to have chances. Feeney also had a great run cutting in off his wing but his curled effort, with the outside of his right foot, just fizzed past the far post.
Whilst we were having attempts on goal Walsall were still being menacing but generally our back four and Danny Hollands were dealing with these before an attempt at goal could be tried. Indeed I heard a fellow supporter behind me state that the ball appeared to be attracted to Danny’s head as though it was a magnate. Walsall did have a penalty claim for a challenge by Cooper but nothing was given. Late in the 5th minute of added on time Walsall were awarded a rather dodgy free kick about 25 yards out. You can guess what we were all thinking and when Shwan missed Ritchie’s curler we felt that the gloomy thoughts had come true but the ball thudded against the bar and upwards. A Walsall player following up got there first but headed well over. Phew! Three points and relegation avoided!
We march on under Bradders. It is not 100% convincing but actually happening. The team spirit appears to be even greater under him…….his army days may well help with this.
The ability of Marvin to close down opponents really quickly is being missed as Hollands is a different type of player and Anton cannot do it all by himself. With Molesley due back at the end of the month and, no doubt, raring to go we will have someone to do what Marv did and so get back to the choice of a balanced central midfield for each match. Cooper is another possible problem as his injuries have restricted his mobility and not being the tallest central defender is another issue in some games. The plus is his reading of situations and provided he can maintain this he will rarely let the side down. Symes is getting better with each match and thus greater fitness, Ings just needs that little bit of luck whilst both wingers look in fine form and with the full backs overlapping with gusto we must be good to watch for the neutral. Bradders’ best tactical match was against Brighton so lets hope he can repeat this in the tough home matches to come against the top sides. He also used his subs much earlier in this match than recently and shows that he is learning quickly.
Despite Shwan’s great saves he is not my man of the match although it was a tough decision. For his continual breaking up of Walsall attacks (especially from long balls towards the end of the match) my vote goes to Danny Hollands.
AFCB: Jalal, Smith, Cooper, Pearce, Cummings, Feeney, Hollands, Robinson, Pugh, Symes, Ings
Subs: Stewart, Purches, Baudry, Arter, Williamson (for Ings, 71 mins), Wiggins (for Cummings, 72 mins), Fletcher (for Ings, 78 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Acocks Green