They say it takes 8-10 games for a league table to take shape, to see who won the summer transfer window, who will be challenging for the title and who will be in a relegation fight come May.
Matt Taylor is eight games into his first League Two campaign as Walsall manager and the Saddlers sit 19th after 2 wins, 2 draws and 4 defeats. It’s safe to say after a promising summer Walsall haven’t hit the heights so far that we expected, fans and experts alike are expecting the Saddlers to finish in the top half of the league and potentially make a push for Playoffs.
So what’s going on?
When a team struggles, generally the first person you look at is the manager. Matt Taylor is new to managing a professional football team and coming straight from the Spurs youth setup there was always going to be an adjustment period for Taylor. The Walsall coach has been praised by fans for his style of football and his ideas are rubbing off on the players. When Walsall beat Mansfield 3-1 it was clear to see he wanted to press and turnover the play smoothly transitioning defence into attack. His attacking brand of football has at times been to his detriment with some of the leagues better teams such as Forest Green Rovers being able to capitalise as Walsall have often been caught with too many players up the pitch. Only keeping one league clean sheet in eight games shows that Taylor needs to look at his defensive tactics and find some answers quickly.
Although Walsall doesn’t have a full squad Matt Taylor still has a selection headache still figuring out what his best XL is. Taylor has had to deal with such as Wilkinson, and of course Rory Holden. Taylor has changed up his squads not quite finding the right team, Tyrese Shade has dropped in and out of the squad competing with Kieran for the left wing position, as well as the search for number 10 on going with Osadebe, Wilkinson, Kiernan and Earing all playing there at some point with the latter looking the most promising. Walsall have looked very impressive in spells with a few relationships starting to develop. Ward and Kiernan seem to have a good partnership on the left, however Taylor hasn’t yet found his best team. With Labadie back from suspension soon and Wilkinson not far away from a return Taylor should be able to find a consistent line up that works for him, and with Kinsella set to miss out for a few weeks, Labadie’s return cannot come quick enough.
Another place to look at when considering a team’s performances is the team itself. A lot of changes to the squad happened over the summer and the dressing room seems a harmonious place, however the squad hasn’t just yet gelled although the 1-1 draw to Bradford did go a long to galvanising the squad after resilient 10 men performance saw them come away with a unlikely point. While a lot of the signings have been improvements on the squad of the 20/21 campaign, with Carl Rushworth proving to be a revelation in goal and Rollin Menayese cementing his starting role at centre back with some excellent performances this season, a few haven’t had the desired effect though. Players such as Stephen Ward and Ash Taylor haven’t been the experienced rocks Matt Taylor would have liked, and Osadebe has not been able to carry over his form from the end of last season. The team has potential, however it feels like it’s missing something, with room in the squad for the extra support Walsall can look the free agent market and the January transfer window to sure up the side.
Overall, the start to Walsall’s season has been disappointing but not worrying. There’s a lot to like about Walsall right now and Taylor is learning every day and slowly the Saddlers have been getting better. The players are getting to know each other’s games and for some of the youngsters in the side it’s all about learning and adapting their play. Players like Phillips, Shade and Miller will play bigger roles in the coming months and will only get better the more they play.
Unlike last season this team looks capable of scoring goals, the real issue so far is controlling games, holding onto possession and converting that possession into clear cut chances. In addition, the defence needs to be addressed. One clean sheet in eight is simply not good enough and does Carl Rushworth no credit.
Walsall will move up the league, they have the players to do it, it’s just a matter of time for Matt Taylor, based off the league table now, a top half finish is still very much on the table, it just maybe that Walsall this season aren’t ready for a playoffs fight.