Walsall 3-2 Wycombe Wanderers Six Things: deserved win for the Saddlers

Morgan Ferrier – what a performance! expressandstar.co.uk

Walsall boosted their play-off credentials with an impressive 3-2 victory over Wycombe Wanderers. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Da plan for Da Beast

Anyone who has seen Wycombe over the last twoseasons will know that Adebayo Akinfenwa, a powerful and unusually rotund target man, is key to their attacking threat. Dean Keates knew he had to devise a plan to stop the veteran and he assigned Isaiah Osbourne a man-marking job, especially from Ryan Allsop’s goal-kicks. Osbourne offered the physicality required to occupy ‘Da Beast’, enabling impressive centre-backs Russ Martin and Jon Guthrie to win the second balls. It worked a treat, as Akinfenwa’s threat was minimal; although he did get ahead of Kane Wilson to knock the ball across for Craig Mackail-Smith, who will be disappointed to have misplaced a close-range header.

Ferrier-led counters

When Wycombe posed any sort of threat, it tended to come when quick dribblers like Paris Cowan-Hall and Fred Onyedinma pressed high up the pitch – the former hit the bar. The problem with having attacking wingers in a 4-4-2 though is that it leaves a team open in transition and that’s where Walsall profited through quick distribution, as Morgan Ferrier, who drifted from a second striker position into the left channel, caused problems for Wycombe’s timid right-back, Michael Harriman. Although, the first goal came from a set piece; Connor Ronan’s delivery was flicked on by Russ Martin for Andy Cook to head home.

Slick-football flows

Kane Wilson, who has recently replaced Nicky Devlin at right-back, set up Walsall’s second shortly after half-time; the former Exeter man saw his initial effort parried by Allsop, before teeing up Osbourne for a tap-in. With gaps starting to appear in the Wycombe rear-guard and Gareth Ainsworth growing frustrated with his troops, that second gave way to a series of fine counter-attacks from the Saddlers, many of which were instigated by the excellent Ronan. The midfielder’s composure enabled him to spot passes that weren’t obvious upon receipt of the ball, but ones which were conducive to quality use of possession, as Luke Leahy’s half-cross half-shot was well-saved by Allsop.

Late scares

Keates got his game plan spot on but he was denied a comfortable finale due to individual mishaps at both ends: firstly, Cook missed a golden one-on-one opportunity to add a third, before Luke Leahy scored an almost comical own goal to encourage the visitors. Walsall’s two-goal cushion was briefly restored when the impressive George Dobson’s cross was touched home by Chairboys sub Dominic Gape, before Dominic Samuel struck from the spot in injury-time.

Imbalanced Chairboys

Perhaps surprisingly for a side boosted by back-to-back wins, Wycombe lacked confidence in their identity. No team with 36 and 34-year-olds up top – Akinfenwa and Mackail-Smith respectively – can play on the counter-attack and thus midfield support is essential, yet here Wycombe didn’t press on the second balls with the aggression required to sustain pressure. It might be that Ainsworth, who has done a wonderful job at Adams Park, needs to freshen up parts of an aging squad in order to continue their solid start to life at this level.

Positive vibes at Walsall

One of the notable changes at Walsall this season is the mood around the club; for example, after Cook’s miss, the fans then sung his name to show their appreciation for the graft he puts in. The Saddlers, two points off the top six with a game in hand, have an opportunity to establish themselves as play-off contenders between now and Christmas – but equally, some perspective is needed. There was a sense of trepidation around the club from late July due to delayed recruitment and in many ways, the biggest achievement is that they are halfway to the crucial 50-point mark just a quarter of the way into the campaign. Survival was the initial target but, with renewed positivity and togetherness – who knows what they can achieve?