Tuesday night marked the start of a new era at Walsall. It started with a bang, then it went downhill. Brian Dutton picked a team that had fans guessing on tactics, and style of play, and the first glimpse of what he wants to implement in the side, with only a handful of hours to prepare the team for it.
Passing, not long ball
In the game against Cheltenham, Walsall completed 453 passes, which saw them increase their recent pass accuracy to 76%. In the last 5 games under Clarke, Walsall averaged 329 passes, and an accuracy of 56%. Although this may seem like a small stat, it shows what Brian Dutton wants his Saddlers side to play like. He wants them to keep a hold of the ball, play out from the back, and work through the thirds. This is a style that is befitting of a quieter, more analytical, and tactical manager, as opposed to the ‘hoof ball’ of a manager that proved to be all mouth, and no substance.
Dutton has seen something in the side. Knowing that a player like Adebayo, who can hold the ball up, is no longer an option, he has changed up the style, to suit attacking players who are better with the ball at their feet, as seen in Lavery’s goal.
Although Walsall were second best on the night, the system is something that can be worked on. They came up against a team who have been playing with this tactic, and philosophy for much longer than Walsall, and successfully so. It was a baptism of fire for the change, but one the Saddlers showed promise in.
A tough road ahead
One thing fans will want now, is Dutton to stick with a system, to give his team an identity, and a way of playing. However this may see inconsistent results, and some tough games to watch. Darrell Clarke struggled to win over parts of the fan base due to the inconsistency in the side, and in their performances. This was due to the tinkering. Dutton will be afforded patience, if he persists, and allows the side the chance to adapt to his way.
There is a light though. Walsall have players who are suited to this type of play, however they are injury. Rory Holden looks like he would slot straight in to a side where passing, and working opportunities is the primary focus. There is also Tyriek Wright, who like Holden, will prefer the type of play that sees ball at the feet.
A change of play, and manager, may actually help the players. Clarke’s fiery nature, and intensity, is now being countered, by a calm, and focussed approach. The type of play that seems to be Dutton’s ‘style’, is one that players will enjoy playing. A nice style of play, could contribute to the players being happier at the club.
He will need to find a way of balancing play, whilst making sure it is not causing too many mistakes. The more these mistakes creep into games, the more it will play on the players minds. Happier players, enjoying their football in a more free-flowing style, will hopefully cut these errors out. However while they figure out this, more mistakes like those against Cheltenham could happen.