THE FOOTBALL LAB: Walsall 1 Aston Villa 1 THE FOOTBALL LAB: Walsall 1 Aston Villa 1
Posted by: Bescot Banter

THE FOOTBALL LAB: Walsall 1 Aston Villa 1

On Saturday afternoon Walsall Football Club played host to Aston Villa in the latest friendly ahead of the 2015/16 Football League campaign. Gabriel Sutton of 'The Football Lab' was in attendance and shares his views below.
On Saturday afternoon Walsall Football Club played host to Aston Villa in the latest friendly ahead of the 2015/16 Football League campaign. Gabriel Sutton of 'The Football Lab' was in attendance and shares his views below.

A solid performance from Walsall helped them to an encouraging 1-1 draw against Aston Villa. Although many of their players did not have the same physical qualities as their Premier League counterparts, overall they made up for this with tactical discipline and wholehearted commitment to the cause, meaning the Saddlers deserved their creditable draw.

In the opening exchanges, Aston Villa were on the front foot as their midfielders, new signing Idrissa Gueye in particular, imposed themselves on the match. Gueye, a very strong, athletic player, had a shot deflected just wide early on. A few of Aston Villa’s attempts at goal, however, lacked either power or accuracy. Walsall goalkeeper Etheridge, who has the unenviable task of replacing Richard O’Donnell in the number 1 jersey, was untested for much of the afternoon. However, the summer signing from Charlton looked assured between the sticks, and was always willing to distribute the ball to the flanks quickly.

Walsall’s defenders were rarely fazed by Villa’s attack, as they showed composure on the ball whenever their opponents pressed high up the pitch. As a result, Walsall were often able to alleviate pressure quickly, thus giving them a firm foothold in the game. Defender James O’Connor showed his defensive quality at times, and his young centre-back partners, triallist Liam Wakefield in the first half, and Paul Downing in the second half, benefited from having an experienced head alongside them.

However, on the rare occasions in which Aston Villa striker Callum Robinson was isolated against the 2 centre-backs, he threatened to beat them for pace. That was a factor in Villa’s first goal, as Libor Kozak lobbed a lovely ball over the top, and Robinson put the ball in the net with a firm finish. Villa nearly made it 2-0 shortly afterwards, as Scott Sinclair rounded Etheridge and poked the ball goalwards, only to be denied by a last ditch block from Jason Demetriou. The full-back, who signed on a free transfer this summer, had a decent first game at the Bescot. He showed his aggression without the ball when needed, and proactively involved himself in the match.

The stand-out players for Walsall in the first half were their two central midfielders, Adam Chambers and Sam Mantom, who broke up Aston Villa’s attacks very well. On the other hand, most of Villa’s midfielders lacked energy, dynamism and a willingness to drive forward with the ball. Due to a combination of Walsall’s caution and Villa’s lack of attacking impetus, it was a match in which both sides had the ball for long spells, with the two teams passing the ball short and possession rarely changing hands.

The only disappointment with regards to Walsall’s first half performance, was that they could have been more incisive in Aston Villa’s half. There were times in the first 45 minutes when one might have wanted a Walsall player to play an early ball into Tom Bradshaw, or to back themselves more confidently in a one-on-one situation.

Midway through the second half, however, this changed. Walsall looked more of a threat going forward, and were able to get balls into Bradshaw at a faster rate. While there were question marks about Bradshaw’s first half display, in terms of his strength and confidence to make positive runs, his work rate in the second half was second to none. The improvement from Bradshaw meant that Walsall had a more of a focal point to their attacks in the second half, and arrivals Jordan Cook, Kieron Morris and Rico Henry all made their mark. Henry made some excellent runs forward from left-back, and in the absence of Mal Benning, who has gone to Mansfield Town this summer, he could be someone to push Andy Taylor for a first team place.

Walsall got into dangerous areas in the latter stages of the second half. In fact, they could have troubled Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer more frequently, had they adopted a more opportunistic shooting strategy. In the end, neither Steer nor Etheridge were given an overly busy day at the office.

The match finished all-square, with the draw being a fair reflection on the balance of play. Aston Villa looked marginally more likely to score in the first half, but Walsall looked brighter in the latter stages. While Tim Sherwood now faces the task of replacing the likes of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke, who have left the club in the last week, Walsall manager Dean Smith can be heartened by his team’s competitive display.

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