THE FOOTBALL LAB | Walsall 2 Burton Albion 0 THE FOOTBALL LAB | Walsall 2 Burton Albion 0
Posted by: Bescot Banter •

THE FOOTBALL LAB | Walsall 2 Burton Albion 0

On Saturday afternoon, Walsall Football Club played host to Burton Albion in a top-of-the-table, Sky Bet League 1 clash. Gabriel Sutton, of 'The Football Lab', was in attendance, and shares his in-depth match review.
On Saturday afternoon, Walsall Football Club played host to Burton Albion in a top-of-the-table, Sky Bet League 1 clash. Gabriel Sutton, of 'The Football Lab', was in attendance, and shares his in-depth match review.

Rarely could you say that a contest between Walsall and Burton Albion was the most significant match in England that day, but that was the case at the Banks Stadium on Saturday. With no Premier League and Championship fixtures on the cards due to international weekend, Burton took 1,301 travelling fans to the Black Country, for a match that would see the winners go top of League One. The winners were Walsall, who leapfrogged their East Staffordshire opponents thanks to a solid performance and goals from Liam Kinsella and Tom Bradshaw.

Ironically, Kinsella was replacing a man that many predicted the Saddlers would struggle without. Right-sided defender Demetriou could not play due to his international involvement with Cyprus, but the man deputizing for the 27-year-old put in a sturdy performance and may have given Dean Smith a selection dilemma ahead of next week’s clash with Chesterfield.

The fact that Kinsella, a fairly defensive-minded player, was selected to play at right wing-back, underlined the sense of caution with which Smith approached the match. He selected 3 central midfielders with talented skill-merchants Kieron Morris and Milan Lalkovic, who both started at Wigan the previous week, dropped to the bench. However, this line-up gave Walsall the midfield balance they required in the first half to dominate the middle of the park.

They kept the ball in Burton’s half for long spells, and were not so vulnerable to quick breakaways due to their ability to congest the midfield and win the ball back quickly. Adam Chambers, who has been given a slightly more withdrawn midfield role this season, proved very effective at breaking up opposition attacks and laying the ball off for other players.

Another impressive performer for Walsall was Rico Henry. As a left-sided, red-shirted player named Henry, the youngster had a lot to live up to, but he gave Walsall much-needed attacking energy and got up and down the flank very quickly. After around half an hour, the wing-back beat a few Burton defenders before laying the ball off for Sam Mantom. Unfortunately, Mantom's effort from just outside the box curled away from goal in an afternoon of disappointing shooting from the midfielder.

Henry was involved once again as Walsall scored the opening goal. The 18-year-old picked out Sawyers, who laid it off for Liam Kinsella, who in turn took a touch to compose himself before drilling the ball into the far corner. Burton goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, however, may feel he might have done better, as he failed to stop a shot, hit from a tight angle, which flew a matter of centimentres away from his semi-stretched arm.

Burton did not truly respond to the goal until the start of the second half. From a Matt Palmer corner, Walsall man Andy Taylor accidentally headed towards his own goal, but his blushes were spared by Mantom, who diverted the ball onto the post. Burton midfielder Palmer showed plenty of energy, but did not produce enough quality in Walsall’s half, one of his long-range shots being held comfortably by Craig McGillivray.

Burton moved the ball well in the middle third of the pitch but did not commit enough men into the box. Lone striker Stuart Beavon worked typically hard, and forced McGillivray into one save midway through the second period, but he often found himself isolated against a resolute Saddlers defence.

Experienced centre-back James O’Connor, who was one of just 3  men over 25 in a matchday squad containing 6 Walsall academy graduates, performed well at the heart of the defence. While he was not noticeably aggressive or commanding in the air, he held his position well and made sure Burton forwards had no space in the box.

Those qualities were seen throughout the Walsall side, as the Saddlers were well organized and limited their opponents to few clear cut chances. Noticing this, Burton boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made changes to add width to his side’s approach play, with wingers Jerome Binnom-Williams and Zeli Ismail entering the fray. Both players made a reasonable impact with their pace and dribbling ability, as the visitors applied increasing pressure.

Their best chance of the match came in the closing stages. Another substitute, forward Tommy Thiele, looked odds-on to convert Stuart Beavon’s right wing cross, but he was denied by a last-ditch block from Kinsella. Unfortunately for Thiele, that miss was to prove costly.

Romaine Sawyers, who had been at the centre of every Walsall attack, led one of the home side’s second half breakaways, his run halted by the hand of John Mousinho. Referee Tim Robinson blew for a penalty and Bradshaw confidently stepped up to secure the points for Walsall.

The win sees them replace Burton as the leaders of League One, and it could be said that this is no longer just a ‘promising start’ for the Saddlers. We are now a quarter of the way through the season, and any team that is still averaging more than 2 points per game – as Walsall are with 25 points from 12 – must be considered serious promotion contenders.

Some question whether their small squad could hinder them when the matches begin to pile-up and injuries kick in. However, Bristol City used just 24 players en route to the League One title last season, and on Saturday, Dean Smith had arguably his strongest substitutes bench in a number of years at the Banks’ Stadium.

Burton, on the other hand, must also be considered promotion contenders. Bradshaw’s late penalty meant the Brewers were to concede more than one goal in a game for just the second time since October. This underlines their excellent organization, which has been enhanced by the summer arrival of former Plymouth centre-back Anthony O'Connor, who was the away side's best player on Saturday.

Some people argued that Burton deserved a point from the game. And yet, manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink insisted that his players were off the pace, which highlights the high standards the Dutchman enforces, meaning that we can expect an improvement from the Brewers at Fleetwood next week.

To Aston Villa and Derby County fans, Walsall and Burton Albion respectively have been something of a local, second team. It speaks volumes for how far Walsall and Burton have come that all four clubs could be in the same league this time next season.

You can keep up to date with the latest Walsall news and views on social media. We're @BescotBanter on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and also offer updates via Google News and Reddit.
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