THE FOOTBALL LAB | Clinical Lions Expose Walsall's Defensive Deficiencies×
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THE FOOTBALL LAB | Clinical Lions Expose Walsall's Defensive Deficiencies
 
THE FOOTBALL LAB | Clinical Lions Expose Walsall's Defensive Deficiencies
THE FOOTBALL LAB | Clinical Lions Expose Walsall's Defensive Deficiencies
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THE FOOTBALL LAB | Clinical Lions Expose Walsall's Defensive Deficiencies

9:30 am Sunday, 7 February 2016
Following Saturday afternoon's Sky Bet League 1 clash between Walsall and Millwall, Gabriel Sutton of The Football Lab joins us to take an indepth look back at the match.
Following Saturday afternoon's Sky Bet League 1 clash between Walsall and Millwall, Gabriel Sutton of The Football Lab joins us to take an indepth look back at the match.

Millwall stayed in the League One top six with a 3-0 win at Walsall on Saturday afternoon. Without discrediting the Lions after such an encouraging result, their victory was down to superior defending and clinical finishing, rather than classic attacking play. They adapted to the rainy conditions better and exposed Walsall’s lack of defensive protection with simplistic balls forward into space. Lee Gregory was ruthless in front of goal, his second half brace sandwiching a solo effort from Mahlon Romeo.

The first half was fairly even. The Saddlers had been the more prominent team in the opening half hour and looked to utilize the pace of Rico Henry down the left flank. Henry gave Romeo a tough afternoon but his final ball was inconsistent, the wet surface not conducive to perfect deliveries. The conditions were more suited to defenders, who just had to stand their ground, than attackers, who had to do something special on that turf, which might explain the shortage of clear cut chances.

Millwall’s centre-backs, Byron Webster and academy graduate Sid Nelson were proving tough opposition and helped keep the Lions in the game. The South Bermondsey visitors grew into the contest and forced a few saves from Liam Roberts, who started in place of the injured Craig McGillivray. Roberts pulled off one sharp stop from Gregory and recovered quickly to deny Shane Ferguson.

The game livened up as Walsall had some attacks thanks to the work rate of Tom Bradshaw, whose pressure forced a nervous moment for Jordan Archer. The half-time fans crossbar challenge had been cancelled – three guesses why – but Anthony Forde did not get that message, hitting the upright with a swerving long-range effort.

Walsall were playing with width and while that could have been their biggest strength in the second half, it ultimately proved their biggest weakness. The Saddlers did not concede many goals last season because they were compact. At times Ben Purkiss, Andy Taylor, James Baxendale and Jordan Cook were their two full-backs and wide men respectively, of those only left-back Taylor liked to attack the flank. On Saturday, they had Jason Demetriou, Taylor, Anthony Forde and Rico Henry in those positions, all of whom flew forward.

As a result of that, they had more width and therefore more chances to play the ball wide early, than they would have done last season. It allowed them to apply a spell of pressure early in the second half, forcing a few blocks from the colossal Byron Webster and saves from the on-form Jordan Archer. On another day, they could have scored and we would be talking about this wonderfully expansive team.

As it panned out, Walsall suffered from the disadvantages of having that extra width and attacking impetus, which was a lack of defensive protection. The Saddlers were far too open to counter-attacks down their left side and the back-line had no support. Millwall could play simple forward balls down that side of the pitch, which led to all three of their goals.

James O’Connor could not block Jed Wallace’s cross from the right and Gregory tapped the ball hope at the back-post, wheeling away to taunt the home fans behind the goal. Nine minutes later, Millwall fans asked ‘Romeo, Romeo where art thou Romeo?’ Not where they would expect. The 20-year-old went on a marauding run forward from right-back and finished firmly inside the near post to double Millwall’s lead.

At that point, Sean O’Driscoll made the questionable decision to take off Adam Chambers and put on Milan Lalkovic. With such attacking wide men in the team, and Mantom a player who naturally likes to push forward, Chambers was one of the few Walsall players who provided defensive balance. Taking the veteran off made the Saddlers even more vulnerable on the counter, as Gregory raced forward from Shaun Williams’ pass to wrap the game up.

Walsall did not show Millwall, a team in form and contending for the play-offs, the right amount of respect. They set up so determined to create width and break the South Londoners down, that they left themselves open at the back. The Lions were well-organized and their centre-backs performed well, as did keeper Archer, but they did not have to be outstanding to win this match. All three goals came about from Walsall’s defensive deficiencies, rather than Millwall brilliance.



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