It should come right for us
Report by Dan Exeter
Nutter that I am, and with the requisite days off and with a mate in Wolverhampton willing to put me up for the night (you think I can be arsed to drive from Surrey to Walsall and back in one day?), I pilgrimed (if there is such a word. Well, there is now) to the Bescot Stadium. It's class competitions like the Coca-Cola League Cup First Round First Leg that keep my interest in football alive, you know...
Anyway, the weather wasn't as hot (obviously, it was a 7:45 kickoff), there weren't anywhere near as many Watford fans (for the same reason) but the team was essentially the same as at Bournemouth, the one difference being the replacement of Gibbs for Talboys. I don't know why - I'm not sure Talboys was injured as he was on the bench, and at first I thought that Gibbs was going to be in defence and Palmer in midfield but this didn't come about and, yes, Gibbs played in midfield. Without wishing to be unnecessarily harsh, I thought he was utter shite.
We certainly dominated Walsall for long periods, and to be honest I thought the most impressive thing about them was their all-seated, all-covered stadium, which but for all the annoying stanchions (there's about one for every seat) would be lovely. We were all over them for ages, we just couldn't get a goal. Dev had one of his crap days again (I don't want to make a big issue out of Dev's crapness or otherwise but I would humbly suggest his crap days are more numerous than his good ones. Won't stop me cheering him on though, don't worry about that) missing a blinding chance late on, while Connolly swung at loose balls a few times and had any of them connected they'd have probably had to recover the ball from past the nearby M6. Ramage was frustratingly laid-back again. He may be perhaps the most skilful player we've got and able to turn the game with one pass or shot but when he was replaced by Penrice it was Ooh Gary Gary who was noticeably hungrier.
Yet it was Walsall who scored, about ten or so minutes into the second half at the other end of the pitch - when a cross came in from the left, Lightbourne headed across the goal, Miller left it thinking it was going wide only for the ball to inevitably nestle in the onion bag. Bazeley kindly gave away a penalty later, a blatant handball in the box more out of sheer incompetence than intent, but Walsall sportingly put the spot-kick safely into orbit, no doubt to molest any passing alien space ships intent on forcing the earth into submission (yes, I do mean one of Rupert Murdoch's satellites).
I'm actually being a bit harsh on Walsall (they did win, after all) but it was frustrating to watch us produce attack after attack, seemingly break through their defence only to fail to score not so much because Walsall did anything but because we were crap. As I've said before, Penrice upped things a bit, and clearly Bazeley is more into attacking than defending (if only he could have got as many crosses in last season) but it just wouldn't run for us. Having Gibbs in midfield didn't help here, as in that sort of position he is quite clearly both mentally and physically slower than the rest of the team (by about ten years, I think). I hope that Elton John's Taylor-made Jackett doesn't think that he's found a new role for his old mate Gibbsy. Much as I respect and like (yes, like) Gibbsy, I'm sorry he's just not a midfielder.
I still reckon we'll stuff 'em at the Vic (not that I'm putting my neck out or anything - and this from a man who reckons that Devon White can score twenty goals a season and still be shite) and we don't have to do anything particularly special to do so. Just keep on playing the way we were and it should come right for us.
Alas Millwall at home is a different proposition - frustratingly, I have a shift starting at 5:30 which isn't quite enough time to get back from Watford. (My fault for not living anywhere near Watford, I suppose). So I won't be able to see how the Golden Boys are adapting again until Plymouth at home. We always beat Plymouth, don't we...
Back down to earth
Report by Kate Holmes
After the exceptional warmth of Bournemouth, it was nice to be in a covered stand in what was a very warm evening. I could not believe Walsall's ground. Purpose built about 3 years ago, they charge stlg2 for the car park and, when you consider the alternative is parking on the hard shoulder of the M6, that is a little unreasonable. The facilities inside are not much better - the toilets (I can only speak from experience of the Ladies' loo here) were an utter disgrace - made Bournemouth's seem like a palace. The snack bar had massive queues up to kick off, and I would hate to see them cope with a big crowd.
We took quite a few fans up there, considering it was the Fizzy Cup. The team had one change, with Gibbsy in for Talboys. Somewhat surprisingly, Gibbsy played in midfield whilst Palmer was deployed as sweeper. For the first 15-20 minutes we looked like we were going to tear them apart. Walsall were very poor, but I get the feeling our players got a little on the over confident side. We were trying clever little passes, and playing the ball around defence. Fortunately, they could not string two passes together.
What was very encouraging was the performance of Bazeley, who has been criticised recently, most of which has been thoroughly deserved. He looked positive going forward, and put over a couple of excellent crosses. Dev and DC came close, but things just weren't happening. We had a massive shout for a penalty in the first half, when a Walsall player's arm made contact with the ball. I suppose the ref saw it as ball to arm but it was a fairly good shout.
Walsall managed one shot on target, straight at Kev, and it was very disappointing to go in at half time not winning. We came out for the second half in a very relaxed mood. The worst contender of course being Rams. I cannot understand why he is being picked at the moment, as his performances so far, including friendlies, have shown that he does not have the slightest interest in helping us to get out the division. It has been worse than playing with 10 men. We were also not helped by Gibbsy having a very poor game in midfield as well, which left poor Johnno trying to pick up the pieces.
I suppose it wasn't a great shock when Walsall scored, we only had ourselves to blame as we seemed to be too confident. Sitting there, losing to one of the worst sides I have seen since Scarborough, was not very nice. I kept thinking that there is no way we are as bad as Walsall, but here we were losing to them.
We livened up in the final 20 minutes, after Rams was replaced by Penrice. I have not been convinced about him, and like most people was disappointed that we didn't put him on the transfer list. After the performance he put in last night, I hope he can keep injury free. He knows what this division is like, he's played there before, and he knows what it takes to get out of it.
More chances went begging, and we forced so many corners it was untrue. Unfortunately the delivery of them was not up to scratch. The ref and linesmen were up to the standard expected - totally pathetic. I'm beginning to think that the offside law is different in this division. Dev was caught offside in his own half, DC had to run past his marker to get on the end of one pass, and that was deemed offside. Big Dev turned his man to chase after the ball, and that was offside. The ref was not interested in time wasting, at which Walsall seem to be very good. He barely ventured out of the centre circle, as that would have meant running. He really summed the evening up by giving Walsall that penalty. The cross came over, bounced strangely and hit Baze on the upper arm/shoulder. Having turned down our pretty valid appeal in the first half, he decided to give this one. Thankfully the player taking the penalty was as good as Gary Porter. In fact, the ball only just remained in the ground, it was so far high t nearly cleared the roof - the only consolation of the evening.
The final 5 minutes were spent camped in and around their area, and we came a lick of paint from scoring (heard that phrase on Sky, so thought I'd use it). Big Dev got through against the keeper, and from a very tight angle, couldn't put the ball on target. A few minutes later, DC beat the keeper with a shot that whizzed past the post missing by millimetres. It just wasn't to be.
Pondering the game on my journey home, I began to think that maybe this result wasn't a bad thing. Our players, and the majority of fans, feel that all we have to do is turn up and we are going to get an easy victory. This result might just bring us back down to earth a bit. To get out of this division we have got to be prepared to battle, and I'm still not convinced we have the players to do this. This game was crying out for Derek Payne (if you haven't checked out BSD lately, make sure you do to see the picture of our Freddie - my hero). Hopefully something will click with the players, and we will find the inspiration from somewhere.
Not our night
Report by Andy Barnard
Thanks to Kevin B. for driving me there and to his mum for letting me crash out - funny, you move back to England and who should give you a lift to the match but your recent SE Brux neighbour. Got there early but missed the first few minutes after queuing 30 minutes for pie & chips - quite tasty, btw. Their kit is red & black so ours was yellow home shirts and white away shorts - yuk.
Sounded like we started strongly, but couldn't see as there was a concrete wall in the way. On 8 minutes we got a free-kick deflected just wide, then went off the boil a bit and they had a couple of dangerous balls across our area on about 15 minutes. After that the half was scrappy - we had more possession but their approach play was better thanks to their no.5 Chris Marsh (excellent dribbler, man of the match) who IMO could be a useful signing. We had several half-chances: Ramage crossed to Devon on the right, who nodded across the keeper just wide; Johnson tried a shot on the turn outside the area, wide but worth the effort; Connolly had a very quiet half but conjured a strike out of nothing on about 40 minutes; Millen had our best chance stealing in on the right but his header at the far post was well saved. We were below par though, and 0:0 was fair at HT.
2nd half began brightly, as the defences broken down more by through-balls and long-balls. A cross from the right found David Connolly unchallenged on the penalty spot but he blasted over the top. Then disaster on about 55 minutes when their forward Lightbourne got onto a highball into our area - he headed across the goal and the ball looped high over Miller and into the far left corner. Don't know who's fault it was - someone caught in possession, Mooney out of position, or linesman for not giving offside. Anyway, 1:0 to them. BTW the linesman on our left wing seemed to get worse and worse, it was like he was applying the rugby offside rule for us - apparently any ball we passed forward in their half resulted in him putting up his flag.
We responded positively to the goal, and moved up a gear with Penrice on for Ramage. A cross from the left was knocked back in to DC on the 6-yd box but he mis-hit the ball into the ground and it bounced just wide - quite a bad miss. Penrice (I think it was) also had a good shot from just outside the box apparently blocked by a Walsall defender's hand, but there was no penalty. On about 70 minutes, though, they got one when a stray ball hit one of our players (Bazeley?) on the hand - whoever it was, it was completely inept. Luckily their attempt to convert it was hilariously bad, flying well into their crowd. This lifted our spirits and we continued to pressurise. At one point Mooney shimmied past his marker on the left and moved inside their area, but then shot gently wide inside the near post. Our best chance, though, came from a through-ball to Devon who held off his man brilliantly as he ran in on their keeper. The keeper committed himself and left a nice gap for the ball to go in at the far corner - brilliantly done, except that Devon curled the ball instead of rolling it and so at the last minute it spun just wide of the post.
It just wasn't going to be our night, and so it stayed 1:0 at the end - apparently Walsall's first win over us ever, at least in cup competitions. Sad, really - we'd missed two almost-open goals and with better finishing might have won about 4:2. But we didn't. I'd still fancy our chances in the second leg, especially if Penrice is still uninjured then - he really was good when he came on.