Date: 6th September 2015 at 8:22am
Written by: @adamguestwfc

The Saddlers unbeaten start to their League One campaign came to an abrupt end with a performance that was far less impressive than Dean Smith would have you believe.

In what felt like a flashback to last season, the problems began with the line-up. Opting for a back three in the absence of Jason Demetriou, with Rico Henry and Anthony Forde acting as wing backs, the Saddlers defence positioned themselves as if they were a back four playing without a right back. For a club that has been collecting right backs like they`ve been going out of fashion for the last 18 months, to suddenly find ourselves in a position where we had nobody to play there (despite having one on the pitch and another on the bench) was both unexpected and perplexing. We could have brought Liam Kinsella in to play there, or we could have drafted in Matt Preston at centre back and moved James O`Connor across. We opted to do neither and, despite it being obvious from the kick off that the defence lacked any shape at all, at no point during the entire game did we attempt to rectify it. The blame for this can only be pointed in the direction of one man.

We started paying the price for this as early as the 6th minute when our visitors took the lead when Craig Jones produced a finish of quality to fire past Craig MacGillivray. For the next few minutes Bury continued to look lively and you worried they might bully us out of the game and double their lead, but with 80 minutes remaining they decided to shut up shop and take what they had. That`s not to do our visitors a disservice as they produced a resolute defensive display to keep the Saddlers at out, and on the rare occasions we did find a way through we found ourselves thwarted by Shakers keeper Rob Lainton. The first half saw both Henry and Reece Flanagan have efforts blocked, before Flanagan did well to block a Danny Mayor shot from the edge of the box down the other end. Pushing for an equaliser before the break James O`Connor saw a header pushed wide and Romaine Sawyers then had an effort saved by Lainton to ensure the visitors went into the break in the lead.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with Flanagan and Sawyers missing in the opening minutes, before Sam Mantom saw his fierce drive pushed away on the hour mark. The Saddlers were creating the odd chance, but weren`t attacking with anywhere near enough pace to seriously stretch the visitors, preferring to play the ball around in the middle third in much the same frustrating way we did for much of the last campaign.

One ineffective makeshift right wing back was then replaced with another when Forde made way for Jordan Cook. Kieron Morris, who I believe to be the best winger at the club, came on to play in the centre replacing Flanagan while Milan Lalkovic continued to look on from the bench. Lainton was doing his best to time waste for the visitors, and MacGillivray in the other goal wasn`t playing at a much quicker pace, preferring to role the ball 6 yards to Paul Downing at every opportunity who then never looked quite sure what he was meant to do with it.

Lalkovic was finally introduced to the frey as the Saddlers finally lost any semblance of shape in the team, playing with Bradshaw, Cook and Lalkovic up front with Morris and Rico Henry behind and then Sawyers dropping back deeper to play alongside Mantom. We still had chances to nick an equaliser with Morris having an effort saved; Mantom then had another effort turned away before Bradshaw fired over in injury time. If there was any remaining doubt about it being one of those days it was confirmed in injury time when a cross fired in by Lalkovic ricocheted off two defenders and towards the goal, only to spin into the grateful hands of Lainton.

Tom Soares had a cracking chance to put the icing on the cake for the visitors with virtually the final kick of the game, racing through one on one with MacGillivray, only to somehow see his right footed effort hit his standing foot and bounce harmlessly away.

Including the JPT game on Tuesday we`ve now lost two on the bounce without scoring a goal. Let`s hope when Neil Etheridge and Demetriou return from International duty for the Doncaster game next weekend we can pick-up from where we were when they departed and ensure this dip in form is merely a blip and not the bursting of the early season bubble.