‘The Whitney cycle’

The latest Vital Walsall blog…

‘Looking for a response’. It’s something we’ve become accustomed to under Jon Whitney as Walsall manager. The Saddlers boss has, in his 75 games at the helm, had to rebuild and reshape his team following an absolute hammering in the previous game an awful lot.

Whether it be following bad defeats to Scunthorpe, Macclesfield, Rochdale x2, Bolton, Rotherham, Whitney is seemingly only 6 or 7 games away from another disastrous performance. And it’s this lack of belief in his players that seems to have us stuck in a cycle of slow improvement, which is then halted by a big defeat and then followed by Whitney going back in his shell.

It is true that we have a good record in games following these big defeats, but what is the point of having a ‘good response’ if all we’re doing is repeating the same old process, over and over again?

Let’s take a look at some examples…

27 Sep 2016, we are resoundly beaten by high-flying Scunthorpe United, 4-1. The following game against Millwall sees us pick up a scrappy 2-1 victory, the game was forgettable with hardly any real quality on show. This ‘response’ however kickstarts a decent run of form with 3 wins out of 6 with the Saddlers playing arguably their best football of the season as Josh Ginnelly, Kieron Morris and Erhun Oztumer start to impose some attacking flair on the team… Until we meet Rochdale in November and are dispatched 4-0.

The response? Whitney again sees a mini revival with a 0-0 draw against Southend United and a streaky 1-0 win away at Sheffield United. This, along with Whitney’s new 5-4-1 formation is quickly binned after a disastrous performance away to Fleetwood the following week.

The response to that? Back into the shell as Oztumer is dropped from the team as Whitney adopts a rigid diamond formation designed to nullify the opposition and grind out points. This again works for a short while, with 3 games unbeaten until Rochdale come to town and again soundly beat us, this time 2-0. Bye-bye diamond…

What next for Whitney after that? Back to 5-4-1 for the home game against Sheffield United, and yes another response! The Saddlers run out 4-1 victors in their best performance of the season. This formation seems to work for Whitney and actually sees us play some attacking football, including the 3-3 draw away to Bury. However, a big defeat was incoming and Bolton Wanderers this time provided it, hammering us 4-1 at the Macron. Time to panic? Surely this is something that can happen against a team flying high, but Whitney sees this an an opportunity to batten down the hatches again as a 0-0 draw against Scunthorpe follows along with a run to the end of the season where we only find the back of the net more than twice, 3 times in fifteen games.

Surely though, a new season and new ideas for the manager will take him away from this cycle of inevitable negativity and disappointment. Well, if Tuesday’s defeat and yesterday’s draw is anything to go by then we’re in for a few weeks of boring football, fluctuated by some decent results, followed by a hammering away from home and then repeat.

Jon, if we’re going to get anywhere under your management please have some belief in your players, your staff and have a go. You’ve seen that the negative approach eventually gets you nowhere, so let’s stop pretending we’re being ‘positive’ and actually show it on the pitch by bouncing back from a setback with a real style and approach that everyone can get behind.

And that’s where the majority of the negativity stems from. The inevitability of it all, without real belief that we’re going somewhere the supporters aren’t going to ‘jump back on the bandwagon’ as you say. Let’s go to Oxford, be positive and try to win the game. What have we got to lose?