BLOG: THE NEARLY MEN... BLOG: THE NEARLY MEN...

BLOG: THE NEARLY MEN...

In the latest of his regular offerings Hillary Street-Ender takes a look back at last weekend's Sky Bet League One clash with Coventry City, and discusses the Saddlers' recent spell of good form, before considering what impact a lengthy injury to Tom Bradshaw could have on our chances of making it to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.
In the latest of his regular offerings Hillary Street-Ender takes a look back at last weekend's Sky Bet League One clash with Coventry City, and discusses the Saddlers' recent spell of good form, before considering what impact a lengthy injury to top-scorer Tom Bradshaw could have on our chances of making it to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

The Coventry game was a microcosm of our season so far with there being much that was good in our performance and much that frustrated. Mention had been made of the condition of the pitch and, yes, it was a bit boggy and slightly cut up in places but we’re not talking the Baseball Ground circa 1973 and I’m sure Deano will have played on worse surfaces back in the day. It wasn’t ideal but seemed not to have too much of an adverse effect on proceedings and the game we saw – goalless though it finished -  was far from a boring one and could probably best be described as absorbing rather than exciting. Our back four was only occasionally troubled and the ever more reliable O’Donnell dealt comfortably with whatever came through to him in a match that saw him troubled far more than we troubled Sky Blues custodian Allsop, for all the possession we enjoyed and pressure we exerted. It’s very much to the credit of Deano, Richard and the lads that we have the best defensive record in the entire division but it’s difficult to know exactly what to read into that. Are we so solid at the back despite the absence of Andy Butler or because of it? What role has our mid-field played in our stinginess? Are Chambers, Cain and company more effective now in stopping opponents in the middle of the park than has previously been the case? And if they are is this primarily down to the presence of Cain, as we do seem to have tightened up even more than normal since he came in from Leicester, conceding just five goals in nine games since he arrived? For me the conundrum in our defence is Downing. The presence of Butler always seemed to me to bring the best out of young Paul and he seems less sure of himself now that Deano appears to have settled on pairing him with James Chambers. He doesn’t look as assured yet we’re conceding fewer goals than ever. ‘tis a funny old game. Our back four will, of course, have great confidence in O’Donnell, a man who has continued to improve before our very eyes for the entire time he’s been with us to the extent that we now think nothing of it when he pulls off yet another blinding save, the one in the dying minutes of the first half at the Ricoh Arena being just another to add to the list. He’s a young man who’s probably playing better than at any time in his career, meaning he’ll have caught the eyes of other teams, meaning that the coming transfer window could be a worrying time for us Saddlers because we’re all aware of what usually happens when other clubs flash the cash. Fingers crossed for him to remain with us, but you wouldn’t be all that surprised to see him go…….

Another to have really impressed over the last couple of months is young Romaine and I fear we may have to keep a wary eye on him during January too. I feel he’s playing his best football for us right now. His participation in the Caribbean Cup seems to have bolstered his confidence and all that’s good about our attacking play goes through him. The ball now sticks better on reaching him and he’s leading our opponents a merry dance, clearly being identified as our danger man in that position between mid-field and striker. When we get our quick-passing game going he’s beginning to look unplayable and looks the one player we have capable of picking out the devastating pass that can set up a gilt-edged chance. It’s a great pity that we have just the one player who has the nous to get into the right position for that pass and it’s even more of a pity that that player has repeatedly been out injured. Cook has been asked to play the Bradshaw role of late but their startling similarity in appearance and mobility sadly doesn’t stretch to penalty area savvy. Our only real conduit of creativity comes when Sawyers and Bradshaw are out there together and it’s highly probable that we’d have netted at least another half-dozen times had Bradders not suffered one injury after another. There was many an occasion at the Ricoh when we nearly worked a decent opening and many a game this season where we nearly achieved a win and we have nearly everything a team needs to compete at the right end of the league, which is where supporter frustration kicks in. When we’re at our best we’re as good as there is in the third division but to be at our best we need Bradshaw to be out there and, through no fault if his own, he’s not been out there nearly often enough. We’ve done well without him of late but he represents our only proper cutting edge and it’s no exaggeration to say that out chance of finally reaching Wembley rests largely on his shoulders.

No pressure, Tom……

By: Hillary Street-Ender.
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