A game of three thirds
By Tim Tweddell
I was expecting (hoping?) to see Marcus Gayle playing in defence, but he appeared up front with Tommy Smith. It soon became apparent that we were playing a version of 4-4-2 with the left midfield position vacant as Glass insisted on playing in the middle of the field, exposing Robinson to a series of right wing attacks which should have brought Walsall at least one goal in the first ten minutes, if not two.
On the other flank, Doyley was suffering from having the wrong studs on a surprisingly greasy surface, but at least Ardley, playing on the right side of midfield, was giving him support.
The first third is best forgotten as we were completely ineffective. Our first shot of any note came in the second thirty minutes, when a twenty-five yard drive by Ardley which was heading for the top corner was tipped over, and our first offside occurred shortly afterwards. We were thankful to be going in level at half-time.
The midfield was a major cause for concern. Ardley was controlling the right side of midfield. An overworked Hyde, unable to get forward, was doing his best to hold the rest of it together with a clearly unfit Vernazza and Glass. None of these three had a serious attempt on goal in the whole ninety minutes.
The difference between the two sides was Walsall's ability to attack down the flanks, particularly their right which caused us no end of problems.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half continued in the same vein. Mostly long ball stuff, producing little for either side. The best we could produce in this period was a chip over the bar from twenty yards by Tommy Smith, who had little choice but to shoot as he had absolutely no support.
Even The Row Z Rookery Choir had been lulled into silence, and had stopped singing anti-Luton songs by the time the double substitution was made on the hour. Hand came on for the tiring Vernazza, and McNamee for the anonymous Glass.
In the final half hour Darren Bazeley, along with ten thousand in the stands, was treated to an exhibition of wing play which produced seven decent crosses into the box, one of which was perfectly laid into the path of Tommy Smith for the first goal. Seeing McNamee and Robinson operating together down the left brought back memories of Barnes and Rostron, of yesteryear.
Shortly before the goal, Gayle had pulled up with a leg injury and was immediately replaced by Foley. A little later Hand committed the first notable foul in what was a clean game to that point, with an unnecessary scything tackle from behind and was rightly booked.
But Walsall were sunk, their heads went down. A frustrated Danny Sonner decided to treat the crowd to a spot of wrestling before body-slamming Tommy Smith to the ground, earning himself a red card and the wrath of Colin Lee, who promised to impose the largest fine possible on the player.
As Walsall pressed for an equaliser in time added on, a long clearance found Smith just inside his own half, with Foley charging past him into the untenanted Walsall half of the field. The ball was slipped through and time stood still as Dom hurtled toward the goal. Everyone hoped, prayed, begged, willed that he would score. He did, comfortably, to huge sighs of relief, loud cheers, rapturous applause, and a mob congratulation from his team mates. Could this be the corner he has been waiting to turn for so long?
We were lucky to get the three points, and could well have got nothing had Walsall taken their chances. We are doing as well as can be expected with what we have available, and are due a change of fortune, so no complaints. The only down side was Gayle's injury which we could well have done without.