Walsall 0-1 AFC Wimbledon Six Things: Wally’s Wombles win

Wally Downes has backing from the natives – afcwimbledon.co.uk

AFC Wimbledon kept their survival hopes alive on Tuesday night at Walsall, where Steve Seddon’s strike early in the second half gave them a 1-0 win. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Wimbledon’s fast-paced start

Such was the energy with which Wally Downes’ side pressed early on, it was difficult to ascertain just how they were bottom of League One. Aaron Ramsdale’s long goal-kicks were not intended for Joe Piggott to win the first ball, but rather for the battle to detract Dan Scarr and Jon Guthrie, allowing Shane McLoughlin plus Anthonys Hartigan and Wordsworth to pick up second balls. Michael Folivi’s striking pace and power made him a real force in the early stages, with the Watford loanee forcing a reflex save midway through the first half from Liam Roberts, who had to be on his toes.

One-dimensional Walsall

The home side’s problem was that they overused Andy Cook, with frequent long balls to the target man, and underused midfielders Liam Kinsella and Joe Edwards, who can be vibrant users of the ball but spent little time on it. It was only when Cook held the ball up that any sort of combination play ensued, but the former Tranmere man was up against a trio of aerial specialists in Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale and Rod McDonald. At that point, Dean Keates’ side needed to explore alternative avenues to goal, although they at least grew into the first half with Guthrie denied well by Ramsdale shortly before the interval.

Steve Seddon strikes

The Birmingham loanee lived up to positive reports from Stevenage, acting as a left wing-back but at times pressing the opposing defence with the vigour of a wide forward. Walsall wanted to have three central forwards on the pitch and the downside to that was that they had nobody tracking Seddon’s runs. Although much of Wimbledon’s first half play came down the right side, it only took a simple reverse ball to set Seddon one-on-one against home right-back Cameron Norman and that was where he caused problems. It was no surprise, therefore, that it was the 21-year-old who grabbed the goal, following a quick passing exchange involving Folivi down the left.

Hosts lacking ruthless edge

Wimbledon were arguably not on the front foot as often as Walsall in this game, but when they were, there was a sense of aggression and speed about their attack; a certain ruthless streak which was not quite evident in the hosts’ performance. Keates made the right decision to bring on wingers Zeli Ismail and Matt Jarvis, who swung in some decent crosses, with the latter’s drive forcing a stop from Ramsdale. However, it is possible that QPR loanee Aramide Oteh, taken off just before the hour, might have offered more commitment to Walsall’s attack than Josh Gordon, who looked slightly more reluctant to challenge for contentious balls in key areas. As it was, Cook was burdened by the heavy workload and the visitors finished the game with four centre-backs in Oshilaja, Terell Thomas, Nightingale and McDonald. Each of them defended the penalty box with relative comfort and that is something that will hurt for Walsall.

The bigger picture

The position that a section of Walsall fans perhaps like to think they could be in, is not necessarily the same position that budget dictates to be their mean. That is perfectly natural, because there would be no point in football if supporters were not passionate about their club and wanted it to strive for something better. The flip side to that is it means many Saddlers managers have to slightly overachieve to be perceived as doing a par job and massively overachieve to be seen as doing a good one.

If we look at Walsall’s Expected Goals Ratio of 46.5% (before Tuesday’s game), that leaves them as the 17th-best performing team in League One – which is where they are currently in the table having played a game more. In terms of budget, they have the 17th highest attendances – and below them, Scunthorpe (due to Peter Swann), Fleetwood (Andy Pilley) and Burton (Championship income) are likely to have spent more. Of course, a run of two league wins in 17 is highly concerning and certainly, it is important the coaching team find a system to reduce the burden on Cook. Although a deserved defeat to the bottom side is hard to take, this blog would understand but disagree with the notion that it means there is anything fundamentally wrong at the club.

Wally wanted at Wimbledon

This result may or may not alter AFC Wimbledon’s fate, with a seven point gap to safety remaining a challenging one. However, it felt significant in the sense that, for the first time in the while, they have applied in a league game something akin to the level of performance that has got them to the last-16 of the FA Cup.

This is a crucial post-Neal Ardley period for the Wombles, because it is the first time in their current guise in which they are looking downwards, rather than scaling new heights and it is important the club reacts to this lean, momentum-less spell in the right way.

The challenge is to build a team, even if for League Two next term, which stays true to core principles of Wimbledon whilst embracing the modern game and the display in the Black Country represents a small step to achieving that. We saw a team willing to press tenaciously, a team strong in the air, yet also one that, in flashes, could produce a reasonable quality of interplay. Vociferous support from the away end shows, despite tough times domestically, many within the hierarchy believe in what Downes is trying to build.