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The Blue Zone
By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 27/08/2022 (Last updated: 28/08/2022)
WALSALL'S Bescot Stadium is a place I enjoy visiting. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a nice place as it's trapped in West Midlands industrial heartlands between the M6 and a major rail freight depot, but there's a bit of nostalgia for me as I used to live a few miles away and the people here are genuine and friendly, I find.
The first point of contact is the stewards who showed that they know how to treat supporters properly unlike those ghastly people at Stevenage who I understand were up to their old tricks again this week by denying entry to a Peterborough supporter for bringing his medication.
For me, getting here by train was like a military operation with the line being closed for engineering between Coleshill Parkway and Birmingham New Street and required a degree in Timetable Planning but get here I did as one of Town's 807 supporters in the crowd of 5,644 today. Along the way I negotiated the Crystal Maze that is Birmingham New Street station. I imagine there will still be people stuck there now pondering Green Zones and Red Zones. Anyway I made it to Bescot, itself and its surroundings firmly placed in the Grey Zone. Reflecting the away kit, the Town end was a sea of blue, contrasting with the scarlet shirts and shorts of the home team and the stand colours of the Poundland Bescot Stadium.
We can all put Tuesday's loss to Nottingham Forest down to experience, or lack of it in the case of lone striker Pepple, and the start we've had in the league hasn't been bad at all. Even so last weekend's scoreless affair with Sutton didn't inspire confidence that we can break teams down, and Mr Hurst's comment afterwards that "it was a rubbish game of football" summed up what everybody thought. But it is the nature of football supporters to be optimistic, at least before the start of the game, and the Town team accountable for putting a smile on our faces today was: Crocombe - Efete, Waterfall, Smith, Amos - Clifton, Holohan, Green, Morris, Glennon - Taylor. Assistant Manager Chris Doig didn't do that pre-match when telling us about all the injuries in the squad. Only having won once at Walsall since 1925, history was not on our side either.
Walsall passed the ball around as if Town weren't playing. On 5 minutes Crocombe had to punch away a shot before the follow up went wide. The home side continued with their quick passing. Knowles on the right passed to the advancing Johnson who slotted home with Town at sea. Walsall continued their barrage of attacks. Taylor headed backwards. Crocombe struggled to clear. Knowles saw Crocombe off his line but the shot from range was wide. On 10 minutes Town finally put a move together. Amos's cross went to Clifton's head but the header went straight to the keeper. Walsall continued to swarm up the field like bees. Good defensive work by Smith resulted in a cross-field pass to Efete whose underhit to Morris caused Town's midfielder to commit a foul outside Town's box. Allen's free kick was accurate but Crocombe gathered it cleanly. Walsall looked lively. Nothing was happening for Town. As Town passed the ball around in midfield without purpose, inevitably the move ended when Clifton misplaced a pass and Walsall bombed upfield. A cross came into to Knowles, who unmarked on the right, should have scored but lashed at the ball, skewing it wide. Town's goal was under siege. Earing was given a chance to shoot after Waterfall committed a foul but the shot was blocked. On 35 minutes Walsall passed the ball around again as they dominated possession. The move only stopped when Knowles was crowded out and got injured. Mysteriously the referee decided that the resultant bounce-up should go in favour of Walsall, and from it Knowles picked up the ball and fired in a shot that Crocombe did well to tip over. Comley found space from the corner but shot wide. Good work finally by Town led to Glennon putting in a low cross but Walsall's keeper Evans beat Taylor to the ball. Just before half time Taylor found Clifton who got in a tangle with Efete. This was symptomatic of Town so far who had been too hesitant and not playing to the strengths of players in running and overlapping. Town lacked ideas and options. As half time approached Morris and Glennon battled to win a throw deep in the Walsall half but Town were no threat. Half time was a relief and an opportunity to regroup as Walsall had looked far more likely to score than Town whose play was one-dimensional and lacked cohesion.
Wearne replaced Green at half-time. Town started the second half with more intent. Efete did what he does best, running on and cutting inside. His pass found Clifton whose shot hit Holohan on the back in what seemed like Holohan's first contribution to the game. Where Town were hesitant in the first half, they were now sharper. There was a worrying moment when Glennon went down with a knee problem after a mazy run but Town's left wingback was able to continue. Walsall had an attack and won a free-kick on Town's left side. Monthe headed over from Allen's cross. On 65 minutes Pepple replaced Amos as Town finally provided support for Taylor up front. A minute later Glennon teed up Clifton who dragged his shot wide. Town attacked. A long ball was sent out of Walsall's defence. Johnson and Waterfall went for it. As Johnson looked to break away, Hurst came out, intercepted and cut out the threat. Hang on … Hurst is Town's manager. Our twelfth man was shown the yellow card. Walsall broke again on 69 minutes. This time Hurst wasn't on hand. The ball came in from the left. Knowles was unmarked with Smith trailing. Knowles's touch wasn't great but he only had Crocombe to beat. Crocombe narrowed the angle and saved with his feet. Town broke, Clifton went on a lung-bursting run up the left, supplying Glennon for a cross. Efete received the cross and won a corner, firing off a defender. Another Glennon cross led to an audacious Efete attempt at an overhead kick as Town looked more inventive in their play. Town had the momentum and were now the team dictating play. Wearne was having an impact on the right, while Holohan and Morris were now getting ahead of Walsall's midfielders. On 77 minutes Town attacked. Taylor saw space on the right. Pepple showed his pace and ran onto the ball into the box where Clifton charged onto the ball and sublimely flicked it into the corner of the net. 1 - 1. Walsall came back and forced a save out of Crocombe before White headed over. But after a tired first half Town now looked to have bags of energy. The 807 Town faithful were buoyant after this second half revival as Town pressed on. On 81 minutes Orsi came on to replace Taylor. A minute later Town attacked again. Glennon crossed. The ball bounced around in the box. Orsi couldn't get on the end of it but found Clifton who slotted the ball home from close range with Walsall's defenders helpless. Walsall 1, Town 2. What a comeback. Town looked the fresher side, aided by the introduction of Wearne and Pepple, and now Orsi. Pepple won a corner on 85 minutes after a desperate block. Glennon crossed - the ball was cleared - Glennon crossed again, and Town won a throw. To increase their energy level and regain momentum, Walsall brought on three substitutes. 87 minutes had gone. Town had worn Walsall down after the home side had given Town the runaround in the first half without taking their chances. Five minutes were added. Maher was tripped outside Town's box. The same player's free kick went straight to Crocombe. Thank you. Walsall attacked. Abraham fell over. Town defended stoutly. "Blow your whistle, we've had our money's worth" commented my new friend Andy as we nervously waited for the game to finish. Pepple was booked for obstruction, but moments later the final whistle blew and it was over: Walsall 1, Grimsby Town 2. This was a magnificent victory for Town after a sterling second half performance.
This was a game of two halves - a red half and a blue half. Town were lacklustre in the first half and struggled to deal with Walsall energy and pace. The introduction of Pepple and Wearne brought a new energy to Town and all the players rose to the occasion. Town wore Walsall down, and deserved to win. If we are to learn lessons, it's that we need to press more from the beginning and provide ourselves with the option of a second player up front. But in the Grey Zone of Bescot, today was the day where the Red Zone became the Blue Zone.
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