Saturday 26 January – Walsall 2-1 Gills
Bloody Bescot Stadium. Bloody bloody Bescot Stadium. How many times is this going to happen? Time and time again we go there, nothing interesting happens and we get beaten by the odd goal. OK, not always, but we’ve only won once there in 14 attempts. It doesn’t matter what division we’re both in and which team is in the ascendancy, the outcome is invariably the same. Dull dull dull, then a goal and we all go home moaning about how grim the West Midlands is.
The redeeming feature is the welcoming social club, with a mighty fine pint of Banks on the handpumps, a rare treat in any kind of football club drinking den. But everything else -the atmosphere, the setting squeezed amongst light industry, a spider web of railway sidings and the M6, and most of all what happens on the pitch – is always bone-wankingly funereal.
This year was little different. We actually played ok, and probably deserved a point. The Saddlers are on a lengthy unbeaten run but were made to look pretty ordinary. We made a bright start but as ever we didn’t have any kind of cutting edge – we controlled the game for long periods but managed little other than to pass the ball from one flank to the other, in a huge arc around the home side’s penalty area. Walsall simply got everyone behind the ball and all we could do was huff and puff.
Walsall could afford to, of course. They scored out of the blue, a close range effort which we failed collectively to defend, Nutter failing to cut out the cross and neither Southall (who was ropey throughout) nor Bygrave succeeding in dealing with the physical presence of Mooney. Our own physical presence up front was replaced at half time by Leroy Griffiths, but too often both forwards found themselves scavanging out wide with no-one taking up sensible positions in the middle. Just as the home crowd started to get tetchy they hit us on the break and it was game over.
Why doesn’t the ball drop well enough to have a shot? All we got were off-balance pot shots from Thurgood and Southall. Why did Marlon King always seem to have the ball with time and space from 15 – 20 yards out, regularly rattling the back of the net from such positions? Because he had the touch, the vision, the reading of the game that our current crop lack. Ok, an extreme comparison as Marlon is one of the best forwards we’ve ever hard. Mulligan could read Jarvis’ game, often profiting from low driven centres, but he’s doing too much foraging for possession himself. We desperately need better service from the wings (Miller and Oli might yet be the answer but Bentley and Cogan aren’t). Thurgood and Crofts together don’t work as a central pairing and Bentley is far better in the middle. And we undoubtedly need someone to snaffle at least 10 goals in the remainder of the season
When we finally had a decent shot, Crofts leathered one in the top corner from 20 yards, a cracking goal (and the first I’d seen this season away from home in six attempts). Utterly irrelevant, or so it seemed, coming as it did in injury time. Yet seconds later Griffiths found himself clean through but ran out of steam, the first genuine moment of excitement we’ve witnessed at the Bescott since Mark Dempsey scored in 1992. You watch, one day we’re going to go to that place and beat them 7-3 in a thriller.
Champagne Moment :
Two moments of individual brilliance : Crofts’ long-overdue goal, and a stunning second half save from Stillie while we were chasing the game.
The Morty Vicker