BLOG | Walsall's Opening-Day Win Gives Reason For Cautious Optimism

Following the Saddlers' opening-day victory over AFC Wimbledon, columnist Pete Sadler takes a look at the performance as a whole, and insists that there is plenty of room for optimism.
Following the Saddlers' opening-day victory over AFC Wimbledon, columnist Pete Sadler takes a look at the performance as a whole, and insists that there is plenty of room for optimism.

As the dust has settled following the opening day win over AFC Wimbledon I've had chance to take stock of what we have learned from the performance of the new boys and the team as a whole.

Firstly I have to say that, even though I'm forever an optimist; well and truly in the positivity breeds success camp that Jon Whitney is trying to create, we were fortunate and the scoreline flattered us. That's not to say that we didn't deserve to win, but let's remember the chance they had to equalise at 1-0 when Chris Whelpdale dragged the ball back to find himself one-on-one with the keeper and Neil Etheridge's superb double save mid-way through the first half. If it was level at the break then the second half could have been very different, as could the result.

Now onto the positives, and there are plenty of them. Defensively we coped well against a direct and robust opposition which has been our Achilles heel in the past few seasons. Even with James O'Connor and Jason McCarthy not winning every header the shield of skipper Adam Chambers and the return of Isaiah Osbourne ensured that the second ball was cleared up well. Rico Henry played with a real tenacity at left back to make up for his lack of stature showing that he can cope in a more withdrawn role.

Offensively we have some effective weaponry and the bench was as strong as I can remember in my short stint at the Bescot. A nice early goal from Erhun Oztumer is only going to help his confidence and I loved that the little maestro is visibly disappointed every time a pass goes astray. Kieron Morris, who I have tipped for a big impact this season, looked dangerous and could have helped himself to a goal in the second half but for a fine stop from the visiting keeper. Flo Cuvelier didn't shirk any tackle and closed the ball down well, however was ineffective going forward from the wide left position before being substituted in the second half; hopefully just a fitness issue and not an injury.

From a striking point of view when the new marksman scores two goals on debut you have to be happy, and that's just what Simeon Jackson did. Very much in the Bradshaw-mould the Canadian international worked his socks off as the lone striker and put himself about against two physical centre halves to fantastic wonder that he was flagging in the final stages. Both goals coming from knowing where to be at the right time but the second a real team goal that was a joy to see finished off by Jackson after fine work from Amadou Bakayoko.

Anyone that has seen the Saddlers pre-season will surely testify that Bakayoko has had amongst the best, if not the best, charges for a first team spot and I wouldn't have been surprised if he had started on Saturday. His inclusion as a substitute only sought to remind Whitney of his ability to impact the game and press for a starting berth. It's something different at least and a plan-B should we need to go more direct, but not forgetting the boy can play too...far from a big lump up top.

All in all there is reason for cautious optimism, yes there will be stronger opposition and with a relatively inexperienced squad and manager there will be defeats...but with Andreas Makris and Josh Ginnelly not even getting on the pitch, Franck Moussa barely featuring and plenty of Saddlers in attendance; the doom and gloom could pass very quickly.

So onto the cup on Tuesday. A chance to see some more of the new recruits I'd expect/hope, a chance to shuffle the pack and see how the rest of the recruits fit in. I'm predicting a narrow win and a debut goal for Makris.

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