Next up for our guest feature is Calum Williams. Take a read and let us know your thoughts!
I had planned to be writing a fan piece which included my thoughts on the Stevenage game, but had my doubts when Boro’s official Twitter page posted a picture of a snow covered Lamex Stadium pitch on Thursday morning. So, it wasn’t a surprise to hear that referee Scott Duncan deemed the pitch to be unplayable early on Saturday morning. Instead, I want to give some of my thoughts on the season thus far, and where I think we are at as a club.
We’re currently sitting in 15th, decidedly midtable, with very slim hopes of sneaking into the play-offs. Understandably, many had expectations of us being much higher in the standings, after all our last drop into league 2 saw us go straight back into League 1 as champions. Aside from the anomaly of our 3rd place finish under Smith though, let’s face it, we’ve looked like going down for a few seasons now! Our squad after losing so many key players was never going to be able to compete the way we did in 2006/07. After a disastrous October there was only one way we could go, and whilst we’ve been typically inconsistent since then, we’ve clawed ourselves back into a respectable position, with some pleasing away victories against the likes of Salford, Scunthorpe and Forest Green Rovers since the turn of the year. Our home form has of course left much to be desired, with less than half of our total points tally being earned at the Bescot, but recent performances have showed that we have fighting spirit in the side. Frustratingly, that spirit isn’t always exhibited for the full 90 minutes! I’ve seen many suggest on social media that the best finish for us will be a ‘best of the rest’ 10th place finish, with the gap to ninth currently standing at 7 points. At this stage, I’d take that as a positive finish to a season of re-structuring and important lessons learned. I’ve seen enough over the last few months to suggest a solid end to an at times tumultuous season.
At the start of the season, I’d have been ruing our lack of firepower going forwards in this section. Gordon for all his effort wasn’t finding the target on enough occasions, Lavery found himself frustrated on the sidelines due to injury, and the less said about Ade and Gaffney the better… The goals we were scoring tended to come from other areas of the pitch (pauses for a moment to think about James Clarke’s screamer against Crawley and the overhead kick against Scunthorpe!). Thankfully though I don’t think may are complaining about our attacking threat at present. Wes McDonald shone once he was given an extended run in the team, earning himself a new 18-month contract, and proving himself to be probably our most technically gifted player on his day. Rory Holden has improved in leaps and bounds as the season has gone on, finding himself in a new central attacking role and providing some crucial link up play which has seen Flash hit a purple patch and a ‘snowball effect’ (his words) of goalscoring has ensued in recent weeks. He will be many fans’ pick for player of the season, and whilst his partnership with Lavery looked to be our best option up top for a period, up pops Adebayo with 2 brilliant performances against Northampton and Port Vale. I thought he was excellent in both games, and the healthy selection headache he has now brought to the squad bodes well for the remainder of the season.
At the back
With regards to goals conceded at the other end, I feel conflicted on this one. On one hand Scarr and Sadler have commanded their area very well in certain games, and demonstrated their ability to shut attacks down, whether it be in a defensive partnership or with Jules adding a 5th defender to the back line with Facey and Pring being pushed slightly higher up. James Clarke being played at right back is a decision which still baffles me, seemingly being ran ragged every time he has played there, and he has found himself benched following a spell out of the starting eleven as Matt Sadler has captained the side. The main issue seems to be set pieces. There are a lot of physical sides in this division who are very well drilled, and we have switched off all too often defending free kick and corner routines. We conceded 4 goals from set pieces in the 3 consecutive losses to Carlisle, Morecambe and Crewe which prompted Darrell Clarke to raise his defensive concerns then, and it’s undoubtedly an area we need to improve on. Recent home performances have been impressive and show huge signs of improvement, but we still shipped 4 goals in those two games, and with only Carlisle and relegation threatened Stevenage having a worse home goal difference than us this season, there’s plenty of room for improvement in this department.
I’m going to be as objective as possible in this section, as those who follow me on social media (Facebook in particular) will know my views on Darrell Clarke already. He’s without doubt got things wrong this season. I already alluded to the bemusing choice of playing James Clarke at right back, and his insistence on treating every fixture as a project can be frustrating when fans see different players in and out of the starting eleven. It gives many a sense that he doesn’t know his strongest starting line-up. In his defence, and I know some don’t like to hear it, but the reality is that this was the probably the biggest overhaul of players of any team in the top 4 divisions of English football. The squad Darrell pieced together with an average league 2 budget was never going to be the 2006/07 Walsall side that romped the division at the first attempt. It’s a relatively young group of players, many who hadn’t played a great deal of football at a professional level, but who have improved as the season has gone on. Some signings obviously haven’t worked out (our most recent departure the obvious culprit) but we are so, so much better than the debacle of October, and the unity in the squad seems to have improved drastically compared to the shambles of last season. The likes of Rory Holden have come on leaps and bounds, and our form in the second half of the season gives us a good platform to work on going forwards. Not everyone will be a fan of Darrell Clarke, but so long as the players want to play for him, and his determination to get out of this division matches us as fans, I’m happy with him at the helm.
I want to close by saying that the support from the fans has been fantastic this season. Considering the drop in division and frustrating performances, there are always good numbers both home and away, and the atmosphere created has helped us to grind out some important results. At times it’s felt a little toxic at the Bescot, particularly through the rough patches results wise. I’ve experienced some choice words being thrown at the players and the dugout which I don’t like to see. Recently however, the energy levels seem to have improved drastically on the pitch, and there is a much more positive feeling in the camp, which has prompted an equally positive response from the stands. Long may it continue for the rest of this season and beyond! UTS!
Thanks to Calum for writing this for me. If you would like to write an extended piece for the guest feature, then please inbox me on twitter on @vitalwalsall