Matt Taylor is now four months into his tenure as Walsall manager, with 11 league games played and a handful a cup games, now is a good time to look at Taylor’s summer recruitment. Taylor has brought in 13 players this summer and as with any rebuilding process it’s a mixed bag of quality that has been brought in.
Starting off with Taylor’s best business, a lot of credit goes to Jamie Fullerton for the signing of Carl Rushworth and Jack Earing. Rushworth is on loan from Brighton and has been a revelation in goal for the Saddlers. His impressive form has seen him earn a call up to England’s under 21’s, which is no mean feat. 22-year-old Jack Earing has made a seamless transition from The National League to League Two, and has often been Walsall’s most creative player and is quickly becoming a fan favourite.
More good business was the total revamp of the Saddlers attack, starting with the loanees. George Miller arrived on deadline day has been excellent so far this season leading the line for Walsall. The joint top goal scorer has impressed with a tireless work ethic and clinical finishing. Miller has also developed a good relationship with our other joint top scorer Kieran Phillips, both players are on four goals and have been excellent additions to Walsall’s attack.
Tyrese Shade joined us on loan from Leicester and has shown glimpses of quality, he brings pace, power and skill to the attacking front. Unfortunately for Shade, he hasn’t played as much as he would have liked and has mostly come off the bench. There is a quality player there, however consistent performances from Phillips and Kiernan have kept Shade out the starting XI. Shade will get his opportunity later in the season, suspensions and injuries will give him the chance to get a good run of games where he can show Taylor just how good he is.
Brendan Kiernan arriving on a free transfer wasn’t the most talked about permanent signing this season, however the winger has quietly gone about his business and been a crucial element of Walsall’s attack. Bagging a goal and three assists in 11 league games and consistently putting in solid performances, Kiernan has become popular among Walsall fans for always giving his best.
The other permanent signing was Conor Wilkinson from Leyton Orient. A man who managed 15 league goals last season was a statement signing for Taylor and despite missing a month of football Wilkinson has really impressed with two goals in six league games so far. His clinical finishing and smart forward play is a joy to watch, if he can stay fit I’m sure he’ll be able to match and potentially even better his goal scoring efforts from last season.
Joss Labadie was another statement signing, the former Newport County man was given the captains armband and has been a real leader in this new look Walsall team. Labadie’s passion and energy has left a mark on Walsall fans seeing his desire has been inspiring to watch. Despite his three game suspension, Labadie has been excellent for Walsall.
Taylor’s defensive signings are where some of the issues in recruitment come to light. Rollin Menayese has been a delight to watch. The Mansfield loanee has been our most impressive central defender and he has displayed great defensive awareness as well as being a truly dynamic defender. Menayese has developed a strong relationship with Manny Monthe who joined in the summer from Tranmere Rovers. The Cameroonian man mountain struggled at the start of the season but week by week he’s improved and now 11 games into the season he is putting in some very impressive displays.
The other Centre half brought in was Ash Taylor. Coming in with a wealth of experience, he was expected to be a starting player and lead the defence, that hasn’t quite happened. It’s been a mixed bag of performances from Taylor after a tough start to the season which included a dreadful display from him away at Hartlepool. Taylor has since put in some commendable performances however he’s not managed to permanently break into the first.
A problem area of recruitment has been in the full back department, the two signings made in this area were former Premier League player Stephen Ward and versatile defender Zak Mills. Ward has been one of the weaker players in the starting XI, often being caught out of position. It’s not clicked for the 36-year-old and with him being the only true left back with Sadler more of a coach than player these days, it’s a tricky situation for Matt Taylor to be in. The other fullback Zak Mills similarly has struggled. Mills has at times shown he’s still a capable defender, however he hasn’t really touched the first team besides the occasional substitute appearance and getting game time in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Matt Taylor had the tough job of building a new squad for the 21/22 League Two campaign. Overall, he’s done a good job of recruiting with help of Jamie Fullerton. He’s got a good core to this team and most signings have had a positive impact, however there are still gaps in the squad which will be a focus in the January transfer window.