The Opposition View: Walsall

Last updated : 03 January 2013 By Jim Bonner

How happy have you been with your team's overall season?

Pretty average if I'm honest with you. We hit the ground running at the start of the season, though it clearly wasn't sustainable. We have a young side, as well as a young manager, and with that comes naïvety. As expected, our form tailed off somewhat. 

To be fair, this season pretty much epitomises Walsall. We were four, one and one in September. After a couple of seasons in the midst of a dogfight, it looked as though we would have it a little easier this year.

It was early days and nobody expected us to be in and around the top six, but things were looking up. Sixteen winless games ensued, only to be broken by three victories over the festive period.

After such a strong start to the season what went wrong to ensure yet another relegation battle for Walsall?

Confidence is one of football's double-edged swords. When you're winning games, you're laughing. Conversely, when the shit's hit the fan everything but everything is scrutinised. A few weeks ago, it looked as though we were dropping like a stone and strong candidates for relegation, third time unlucky.

I would use the term 'relegation battle' loosely, as we are eleven points clear. Even whilst we were struggling for that elusive win, we rarely disgraced ourselves. Scunthorpe H, Swindon H and Coventry A aside we were a little unlucky. We drew 2-2 no less than four times and on three occasions, led 2-0. Bad luck, naïvety, call it what you will. 

Last year you named Andy Butler and ex-Pompey man Florent Cuvelier as your key players. Is this still the case or have others stepped up?

Butler's still going strong, our only virtual everpresent in defence. We started the season with Grof as #1, before bringing in Darlow (Forest) then McCarey (Wolves) on loan. The latter played eight games before being replaced by Darlow, who kept a clean sheet on his second debut v Stevenage on Saturday.

Taylor, Benning, Downing, Holden, Purkiss, Taundry and J Chambers have also featured in our back four with consistent irregularity. Flo missed November in its entirety through injury, before making his comeback as substitute v Colchester and MK Dons. Sadly, he did his hamstring again on Saturday and with that sees an end to his second loan spell.

Grigg, Paterson and Brandy take some stopping on a good day. They each scored against MK Dons on Boxing day, which we won 4-2. 

Should a competent Portsmouth team turn up at the Bescot Stadium, how would they go about beating your team?

You would have to stop us playing football. We are largely poor against the more physical sides in the division, as our team is full of lightweights. We play a good game, but we are often outfought. That said, we seem to have developed a Plan B and can hit teams on the counter and/or with direct passing.

I wouldn't label us 'long ball' ala Stoke or West Ham as we actually hit our lone striker, Grigg, with purpose. MK Dons learnt this the hard way and whilst we converted each of our four shots on target, we could so easily have had a few more.

It depends which Walsall turns up, to be fair. We were second best over two games against non-league Lincoln City. We are the only team to have beaten Bournemouth away, whilst we have shown MK Dons amongst others what we are capable of.

What do you make of the current situation at Pompey now? We're doomed, aren't we?

As an outsider looking in, I would say so. It's only a matter of time before you're slapped with the points deduction. When that day comes, you're up the creek without that proverbial paddle. It would almost certainly see Portsmouth bottom with only four months to go.

We were in a similar position, points wise, a couple of seasons though so when there's a will there's a way. We survived despite finding ourselves some ten points adrift when Smith took over in January. I would imagine relegation is the least of your worries, still. Looking at the squad when we last met, I'm surprised you're not mid-table, at the very least.

Are Sky justified in televising this game on a Friday night because it'll be a rip-roaring affair or are you expecting a boreathon?

The TV pick came out of the blue. We were struggling, to say the least, when it was announced. We hadn't won in God knows how long, the Scunthorpe game was played in front of a record low Bescot crowd. Sky wanted to see a relegation six pointer, I guess, as sadistic as they are.

They may find themselves disappointed, mind. We have managed to turn our season around and arrest the apparent struggle. It could be the best time to play Portsmouth after their second half capitulation at Swindon the other day. Then again, back to that double-edged sword; the wounded animal. You expect the worst, yet tomorrow's another day. 

Predict the outcome of the game.

You're not going to want to hear this, but I think we'll win and win comfortably. Then again, they all say that and I should probably know better having seen what following Walsall can do you. The Walsall effect isn't a particularly nice thing. They raise you up as quickly as they knock you down and vice versa.

We may miss Flo, though Brandy missed Stevenage through suspension. He's our form player, along with Paterson who was Saturday's match winner. We will be looking to do the double, and in doing so securing only our second of the season, over Portsmouth having defeated them 2-1 at Fratton Park mid-September.