In the latest of his weekly columns, Scott Brotherton takes a look at Walsall defender, Paul Downing.

In the latest of his weekly columns, Scott Brotherton takes a look at Walsall defender, Paul Downing;

It has been a difficult few weeks for Paul Downing. He has spent them warming the bench while James Chambers has occupied the centre-back position alongside captain Andy Butler. But now the young defender is likely to be thrust back into the fray for this weekend’s home clash with Leyton Orient, after Ben Purkiss’ sending off at Rotherham.

Chambers – a right-back by trade – should revert back to his favoured position. He has been decent at the heart of the defence but nothing compared to Downing in his prime. The problem has been Downing’s gradual decline in performance levels in 2014, culminating in a shocking own goal against Preston, and he has been dropped for the last three games.

The reason for this in my opinion is simply burnout. Downing is only 22 years of age and yet to experience a full season of regular league starts, after breaking into the Saddlers team part way through the 2012/13 campaign.

In an ideal world it would be best not to overuse Downing in the early stages of a promising career. Take Adnan Januzaj at Manchester United or Ross Barkley at Everton. Both are worthy of being in the manager’s best eleven but Moyes and Martinez are allowing the youngsters time to get used to the Premier League before handing out consistent starts. This should hopefully transform them into better players in the long run.

At Walsall though, Dean Smith does not have the luxury of a big squad which he can rotate at will. Generally he has to stick with his best team and then try to plug any gaps when they appear. It was lucky for Deano that he could call on an adequate replacement in James Chambers to give Downing a rest.

After a few weeks to recharge his batteries I hope Downing is back to his best against Orient. The Saddlers have definitely missed his height and power from corners as well as his all-round presence on the pitch.

He will need to be on top form though. Third placed Orient are the highest scorers in League One with 70 goals to their name, and the lethal partnership of 12-goal Kevin Lisbie and 16-goal David Mooney will make mincemeat out of any defence that is not up to scratch.

However, I am glad that Downing should get an opportunity to re-stamp his authority on the team. As a young defender with bags of potential this should be only a minor setback and I still see him progressing to become a truly top-notch player.

By: Scott Brotherton.
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