Walsall 2-1 Plymouth Argyle
by Adam Guest (@adamguestwfc)
A debut goal for Andy Cook, and an exquisite free kick from Luke Leahy, saw the Saddlers come from behind to claim a well earned three points on the opening day of the new League One season.
The Saddlers lined up with five debutants, but only two new faces, as Cook and Morgan Ferrier joined the returning Jack Fitzwater, Zeli Ismail and Josh Ginnelly in a side that looked much stronger on paper than it did first thing yesterday morning. The boost provided by yesterday’s trio of new signings was evident from the positive atmosphere emanating from the stands.
Ferrier, who, like his strike partner Cook, had never kicked a ball in league football before kick off, almost got off to a dream start just 2 minutes in. Ginnelly made good progress down the left and laid in the ex Boreham Wood striker, who saw his effort blocked by Macey in the Plymouth goal.
Moments later, Liam Roberts was almost embarrassed when he miss-controlled a Fitzwater back pass, but managed to recover just in time to prevent the ball rolling over the line.
Despite early dominance and looking dangerous on the flanks, it was the visitors who took the lead. Ryan Edwards, making his first start for the Pilgrims since receiving the all clear from testicular cancer, got away from a napping Leahy to turn home Conor Grant’s freekick.
But right on half time the Saddlers drew level when Joe Riley hacked down Ferrier in the box; Andy Cook’s scuffed penalty was turned on to the bar by Macey, but the Saddlers new number 9 was on hand to turn home the rebound.
The second half again saw the home side on top, with Fitzwater seeing a header from the corner hit the top of the cross bar. We appeared to be attempting what ITV termed “the love train” during England’s World Cup campaign, when all the attacking players at corner stood in an orderly queue before breaking in different directions. However, if England had the love train, we had the cancelled service to New Street as, Fitzwater’s header aside, we failed to be a threat from any of them. If we are to make additional moves in the transfer market in the coming days (and with Bristol Rovers seemingly taking leave of their senses and paying actual money for Amadou Bakayoko, it’s likely we will), someone who can take a corner is a must.
Whilst our corners were pathetic, our free kicks were much better. A 64th minute free kick that for the last two years would have been fallen into prime Oztumer territory, was smashed home emphatically by Leahy, who more than atoned for his earlier error.
There’s no doubt the Pilgrims will be disappointed to have left the Banks’s pointless, and came close to snatching an equaliser 8 minutes from time when Ryan Taylor saw his effort blocked by Nicky Devlin. But it was the Saddlers who had the best chance of the closing stages. Cook, who moments earlier had delayed too long before pulling the trigger, was much more clinical this time and was unlucky to see his effort smack off the inside of the post and back into the grateful arms of Macey.
In summary, this feels like an excellent result. Cook got the sponsors man of the match award, but it could have gone to any of half a dozen. Jon Guthrie and Fitzwater were outstanding at the back, George Dobson was everywhere, Liam Kinsella was excellent after replacing Adam Chambers at half time. We look dangerous on the flanks and the two strikers looked sharp. There wasn’t a great deal of link up between the two, but given they only met for the first time yesterday that is hardly surprising. Plymouth are a good side too, we’ll play much worse teams than them this season and lose, so this is an impressive win.
Main concern, apart from the poor corner delivery, is the lack of depth in the squad. Even with yesterdays additions, the squad still looks threadbare. We do now have what looks a good first XI, but we still need at least one more centre back, a central midfielder, and a replacement for Bakayoko before the window closes. I’d like to see competition for Leahy’s place too as, as good as his free kick was, he still looks suspect defensively.
That said, I’m far more positive than I was when I wrote my blog the other night, and that can only be a good thing. Next up, Scunthorpe away.