Pressley ‘needed’ a win against Chesterfield last Sunday, he names three strikers, what does he get? A 0-0 draw. You’ve got to love this group of players.
On the plus side, that performance against Chesterfield was much better and that attacking trident (which ended up playing in a 4-4-2) linked up well. Madine looked less isolated than he had been before and we created just about enough to say we should have won that. On the down side, we failed to score despite being in promising positions and having plenty of possession. It is hard to tell right now whether we should see ourselves as a side slowly building confidence or just one that is a little bit rubbish.
We are now at the beginning of the January transfer window but it appears that the first priority is offloading the dead wood in our bloated squad before making additions. Signing Gary Madine permanently is the second priority and just when it seemed our expectations were being managed with the striker missing this meeting with Walsall through ‘injury’, he extends his loan deal. Once again, it’s hard to know what to make of it all.
This ‘M6 Classico’ meeting with Walsall could be decisive for the futures of Ryan Allsop and Frank Nouble, with Pressley still apparently to make a decision on whether to keep them longer-term. Allsop seems to have done everything in his power to convince Pressley to keep him but rumours persist that a more experienced keeper is being lined up. Nouble seems to be a 50-50 decision, I would personally like him to stay because opposing teams have to deal with him whether he is playing well or not, but his off days can leave us wanting and are far too often for him to be relied upon.
We will be without the services of loan duo Seb Hines and Josh McQuoid who have both ended their loans early due to injury. This means that Pressley no longer has to worry about breaking the league’s maximum loan player rule now that we ‘only’ have five loan players in the first-team squad. Reda Johnson is still injured and the month-long extension of Matthew Pennington’s loan deal sugges that we are still short of a full complement of permanent right-backs. With Aaron Martin a doubt for this game through injury, Jordan Willis should make a return to first-team action and it will be interesting to see whether he has learned from the mistakes that contributed to his loss of form earlier this season.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Willis, Webster, Haynes; O’Brien, Fleck, Thomas, Swanson; Jackson, Nouble.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting at the Ricoh Arena set the standard for our dour recent home form. A 0-0 draw where we probably had just about the best of the play without overly concerning Richard O’Donnell in the Walsall goal although the Saddlers will themselves feel that they may have been able to nick a result on another day.
Our last trip to the Bescot Stadium resulted in a 1-0 win for a Sky Blues side that was in the midst of its best run of form in the 2013-14 season. A Franck Moussa goal was enough to edge a fairly narrow contest which then was followed up by convincing victories over league leaders Leyton Orient as well as Notts County.
How Are They Doing?
Walsall will still feel that they are in their best run of form this season, with just one defeat in their past seven league games that has taken them from the fringes of the relegation zone into mid-table. A 4-1 defeat at home to Swindon aside, their run has been defined by a defensive steeliness with four clean sheets having been recorded during their most recent spell of form.
In Tom Bradshaw, Walsall have a striker that can make that defensive strength count by punishing frustrated teams with his goalscoring ability. The former Shrewsbury man once went nearly two years without a goal in his early career but Walsall boss Dean Smith has put his whole-hearted faith in the striker and it his paying off big time. Bradshaw is nearing the top of the league’s goal-scoring charts with 12 goals this season, in addition Walsall have managed just three goals in the 10 games he has missed this season.
Behind Bradshaw will be Romaine Sawyers a frustrating player who is probably just about makes up for the games where he is anonymous with moments of brilliance from absolutely nothing. Walsall also have Jordan Cook who is slowly returning to the form that earned him a move to Championship Charlton a few years ago, Cook has pace and will operate in a more natural wide position compared to the central role he was used in during that 0-0 draw just over a month ago.
Michael Cain and Adam Chambers in central midfield sit deep in Walsall’s 4-2-3-1 system and provide the platform for the rest of the team to play. In defence, Paul Downing continues to improve whilst left-back Andy Taylor continues to be a consistent performer for the Saddlers. And finally, Richard O’Donnell in goal ranks as one of the best keepers in the division and makes it even harder to get past Walsall’s mean defence.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) O’Donnell; O’Connor, Downing, J Chambers, Taylor; Cain, A Chambers; Forde, Sawyers, Cook; Bradshaw
Walsall are a completely different prospect with Tom Bradshaw in the team compared to when we faced them in November with him out injured. They play neat, tidy football and like to have a lot of the ball, Bradshaw turns that possession into goals and that will Walsall a much tougher team to face this time around. What’s more is that their recent win in Milton Keynes will provide them with yet more confidence that they can improve upon their decent, but second-best performance against us earlier in the season.
It’s hard to tell whether Pressley will approach this game with the attacking intent of the Chesterfield game or revert to the 4-5-1 system that saw us win back-to-back away games not too long ago. I am finding this game a tough one to predict (I’m pretty sure I always say that, maybe predictions are just hard) but I am going for a 2-1 loss.