THE FOOTBALL LAB | Hiwula Winner Sinks Timid Shrimpers THE FOOTBALL LAB | Hiwula Winner Sinks Timid Shrimpers
Posted by: Bescot Banter

THE FOOTBALL LAB | Hiwula Winner Sinks Timid Shrimpers

Following Saturday afternoon's Sky Bet League 1 clash between Walsall and visitors Southend United, Gabriel Sutton of the Football Lab joins us to take a closer look at the match.
Following Saturday afternoon's Sky Bet League 1 clash between Walsall and visitors Southend United, Gabriel Sutton of the Football Lab joins us to take a closer look at the match.

Jordi Hiwula's dramatic winner breathed life into Walsall's automatic promotion charge, as they secured a 1-0 win over Southend. The visitors defended from deep for much of the game and stayed level through a combination of resolute defending, poor opposition shooting and a Daniel Bentley masterclass. Their resistance held until the 88th minute when Hiwula's header crossed the line to deny Phil Brown's side a point,

It was clear early on that Walsall would have most of the possession. They looked to play out from the back with centre-backs Paul Downing and Matthew Pennington, the latter on loan from Everton, often passing the ball between themselves. This provoked the odd nervy moment with the physical Tyrone Barnett pressing hard.

Walsall were at their best when they got winger Anthony Forde and left-back Rico Henry on the ball. The latter’s exuberance gave the hosts energy on the left flank but it also created gaps, which could have been exploited had the visitors shown more attacking ambition.

Instead, Southend prioritized organization. This entailed wide men Stephen McLaughlin and Will Atkinson to tuck in, rather than attack the flanks. Walsall were restricted to long range efforts, Henry’s shot flying just wide. The Black Country hosts needed more creativity from their central players, Romaine Sawyers guilty of sloppy touches early on and Sam Mantom rarely involved. Southend’s better moments tended to originate from the subtle movement of Jack Payne, who cut inside from the right before drilling a low shot just wide.

Walsall began to find their rhythm midway through the first half. Anthony Forde came close with a 23rd minute free-kick and a header one minute later, shortly before Mantom’s 25-yard strike was pushed away by Daniel Bentley. Sawyer’s then come close numerous times in quick succession, his back-post effort cleared off the line, his curling shot flying wide and close-range strike parried in a scramble which saw four players nearly score.

They were unable to sustain such intensive pressure for the last 15 minutes of the first half. Southend regained their defensive structure and limited Walsall’s play to non-threatening areas, in a spell of ineffective possession from the hosts.

Manager Jon Whitney had clearly got the players psyched up at the interval, as Walsall started the second half strongly. Jordi Hiwula forced the defence back with his pace and work rate, but needed to be more decisive when the ball came to him in the box. The former Man City graduate was denied by the legs of Bentley and Anthony Forde was unable to convert the rebound.

Southend stayed level due to Walsall’s poor shooting, but the Essex side needed to defend more aggressively. Holding midfielders Ryan Leonard and Gary Deegan had been picked largely for their defensive qualities and needed to stop the hosts getting balls into Hiwula through central areas.

Some of the home side’s play had come through Jason Demetriou, who made some useful forward runs in a typically spirited display. The Cypriot’s influence though was negated after the 70th minute introduction of Sam McQueen. The Southampton loanee - whose name had been initially forgotten by the PA man - tracked Demetriou’s runs whilst moving the ball well, his 72nd minute shot held by Etheridge. Looking more balanced on the left, the visitors regained their structure and forced Walsall to play in their own half. They came close themselves, Deegan’s dipping long range strike tipped over.

Jon Whitney’s side were struggling to feed the ball into wide areas. Milan Lalkovic had made little impression and was replaced by the youthful Kieron Morris, who would come close twice. The academy graduate mishit Forde’s corner, before forcing a fine diving save from the seemingly unstoppable Bentley.

The up-and-coming goalkeeper would finally be beaten late on, however. From another Forde corner, Hiwula’s header bounced off the bar and narrowly over the line, stimulating chaos in the stands and on the touchline. With Burton drawing, the 21-year-old’s late goal sent Walsall to within three points of second place with a game in hand.

Regardless of Saturday's result, outside hopes of a play-off place had long gone for the Shrimpers, though a top half finish remains a respectable return to the third season. Southend have had a good season, Walsall can still make it a great one, thanks to Hiwula’s late intervention.
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