BLOG | Plenty of Work to Do as Pre-Season Gets Underway

With the new season rapidly approaching I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has been eagerly anticipating Saturday's game as a chance to see our fresh recruits...after all, any one can look good on YouTube or in a highlight reel.
With the 2017/18 League One campaign getting underway in under three-weeks' time, Pete Sadler joins us to take a look back at Saturday afternoon's pre-season defeat to Solihull Moors, including a brief analysis of Jon Whitney's pre-match comments, before considering what needs to change before the season begins.

With the new season rapidly approaching I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has been eagerly anticipating Saturday's game as a chance to see our fresh recruits...after all, any one can look good on YouTube or in a highlight reel.

Leading up to the game I shared the view of most fans, and it would seem Jon Whitney himself, in that we are at least a couple of players light of a complete squad. When I say complete squad from a Walsall perspective, I obviously mean in terms of first team numbers and not to give us a number of different options that we would love.

When Jon spoke to fans before the kick off with Solihull Moors he was asked where the attacking threat would come from in this team, the inference being that a striker should be the priority; he responded that Oztumer needs to step up. I thought this a bit strange given his contribution last season and odd to pile the pressure onto one man's shoulders.

Everything that I say about the game and players has to be heavily caveated with the understanding that two separate teams were fielded. Whether this is the right or wrong thing to do is a discussion for another day.

The first half saw Liam Roberts in goal (not really a new signing, but he's not had a run of games at any point for us), Luke Leahy at left-back of a back four which also contained Jon Guthrie as a left-sided centre back. Maz Kouhyar started on the left of midfield and Tobias Hayles-Docherty on the right of midfield.

Walsall got off to a near perfect start with an early goal from Kouhyar, who finished well following good work by Hayley-Docherty on the opposite side earlier in the move. I suppose that this allowed the active players to settle a bit and play in a more relaxed manner. Moors did not particularly press the Saddlers and anything aerial was cleared up by Matt Preston and the tall Guthrie. Leahy as a result was able to press forward a little and showed his engine and offensive ability. Roberts in goal didn't really have much to do, or nothing much to catch the eye; which is never a bad thing for a goalkeeper...I had far too much of that with Etheridge. Guthrie doesn't look the most elegant of players but managed to move the ball along the back line well and on the whole deal with, in all honesty, little physical threat.

The second half saw the emergence of Mark Gillespie in goal and Nicky Devlin at right-back of a four. The second XI was markedly more youthful, not just for the absence of Adam Chambers, with the only player having regular playing experience (other than the 2 new signings) being Joe Edwards. Kieron Morris and Amadou Bakayoko you could argue have plenty of experience but none of which you would call 'regular' or suggest they are organisers on the pitch. Jon's suggestion that the team he had build contained a lot of leaders was sure going to be tested.

Without putting too finer point on it, and I'm aware he has just come back from a lengthy absence, if Reece Flanagan is the answer to any question then it can only be about the likeness to a Coronation Street character. If he tried one long ball which failed, then he must have tried half a dozen...I don't recall one that found its target. I hate singling out players but he is Baxendale mark II. I digress.

Back to the analysis of the new boys, it's hard to form an opinion of any merit because of the melee of panic the second half contained, however Gillespie looked erratic to say the least. Having conceded an equaliser after a shot that came back off the crossbar before being turned in from close range, the Saddlers found themselves behind after a fine solo run from an opposition player had 2/3 players queueing up to turn it home. The former Carlisle stopper showed he was more than willing to come off his line, albeit not always necessary. As for Devlin, he looked good overlapping and going forward and ok defensively. When the other 3/4 of the back four are 19 years old you can sympathise with him not having the most impressive game. Walsall's equaliser came out of nowhere really, although it was a good finish from Edwards, but the winner was both un-deserved and calamitous from a defensive point of view. 3-2 loss the final score.

So now onto Villa at home on Tuesday in what should be a much sterner test. You would expect Whitney to shuffle the pack a little less in the game itself and try to get some stability from seven to nine players with only a couple in the balance between starting and just missing out.

I can't help but think that as well as the striker that people are crying out for; as in a proven goalscorer from a lower level and/or a physical presence in the same mould as Bakayoko that he can learn from, we really need a physical presence in the centre of midfield. I think that this would not only help the defensive line in breaking up opposition attacks, it would also help the team going forward with a trust of the defence being built so that the direct balls forward can stop. I've seen nothing in the last few years that suggests a long ball ever works for us and with Isaiah Osbourne leaving that spot needs to be filled. Anyone over and above those in terms of quality additions would be nice, but not essential.

Clearly I wish all the new recruits, the youth team players that make the step up this year and the returning first team players all the best for the coming season. I will be following intently win, lose or draw; as I'm sure all the more long-suffering Saddlers will too. #UTS
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