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Balti Kings

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 01/09/2019

MY first experience of Town involved Walsall, our opponents way back in September 1967. Now I'm rejoicing about the reduction of a fiver for being over 60. The last time I visited Bescot Stadium was in 1990, when I got in for nothing. I was officiating for the railway at the nearby station. It was an evening game.

As it happened, it was a waste of time as about two passengers got off. Rather than spending my time hanging round looking at the concrete splendour of M6 architecture, I walked across the road to the ground. A steward saw me and without asking led me inside. I was wearing a high visibility jacket, so he might have thought I was a steward. Perhaps if I'd been wearing a Walsall shirt I'd have got a game. Anyway, they didn't need me as they went 3-0 up after fifteen minutes. The game then became becalmed. Luckily I spotted a mate and joined him, otherwise I could have died of boredom. At least I'd have died happy as Scunthorpe were the team on the receiving end that evening.

Bescot is one of the earlier examples of the newer box like style of stadiums. It is still neat. With the bigger boys Villa and West Brom not far away, Walsall supporters have loyalty and pride, however underperforming their team is. For our part, it's hard for us not to feel optimistic after last week's five goal sizzler. The start to Walsall's season has been average. You just have to think that their highly competent manager Darrell Clarke will have instilled steel into them. It's too early in the season still to say that today's game will decide anything, but at the very least Town were going to need to establish a positive game plan.

Walsall is the Balti pie. I remember them being introduced here in the late 90s. I read recently that at 20 per cent Walsall FC has the highest concentration of pie eaters at any football ground in the country. The attendance today was 4812, so that means a lot of people eating these spicy lard monsters. I suspect that Weighwatchers won't be dropping in to sponsor Walsall any time soon. Leaving aside the catering arrangements, the main attraction beckoned as the teams turned out. Town attacked the home end for the first half. The line-up read: McKeown - Hewitt, Öhman, Waterfall, Hendrie - Cook, Hessenthaler, Whitehouse - Green, Hanson, Ogbu. Place your bets. It was good to see Öhman back, but in his case the receipt of a yellow card is de rigueur. It was surely just a case of when.

The sky was blue after earlier rain, but conditions were breezy. Bescot Stadium, bedecked in Walsall's red, was an oasis of brightness in contrast to the nearby grey world of West Midlands industrial suburbia. Indeed, Town started brightly with an early free kick followed by an Ogbu stab on goal, and then after a lay off from Ogbu, Cook drilled a shot wide. Town's lively start was undone as Walsall attacked up the left. Hardy was too quick for Hewitt, and crossed. McKeown saved Adebayo's shot but the defence was slow to respond, and Lavery had time to control the ball and slam it home after 5 minutes. Walsall 1, Town 0. This was poor as Town's defence was beaten for pace and reaction. McKeown rightly had a go at Hessenthaler and the rest of the Town players who should have done better. This goal then dictated the pattern of play, as Walsall looked lively and confident when going forward while Town laboured. After the initial shock, Town did have a good chance on 12 minutes when a pinpoint cross from Hendrie on the left found Green, whose header was superbly saved by Roberts in the Walsall goal. Then on 20 minutes it happened. Not a Town goal, but the expected yellow card for Öhman as Town's defender was guilty of a badly timed tackle on Lavery just outside the box. Town had a scare a minute later when Holden waltzed around Hendrie and did everything but score as he curled his shot wide with only McKeown to beat. On 26 minutes Pring went clear after appearing to push Cook in the back but the danger was averted. Town were workmanlike and although they showed odd touches, there was no cohesiveness while Walsall played with flair and looked dangerous during their occasional attacks. All Town's efforts were leading to an absence of end product. On 30 minutes, a slip by Walsall's pocket hippie Sinclair led to a break, but as Green rounded the keeper, the offside flag went up. Then Ogbu unselfishly supplied Hanson who was in a better position but Hanson's shot was woeful. Walsall had a brief spell of dominance before Town responded with headers from Öhman and then Whitehouse. Town conceded a corner on 38 minutes after Hewitt failed to clear a cross. It was frustrating as Town had more of the play, but Walsall were playing with greater guile. Town won a corner on 41 minutes. Roberts failed to clear Hessenthaler's cross and Whitehouse saw the opportunity, running forward to fire in a bullet header. Walsall 1, Town 1. Walsall almost equalised immediately after another sharp run up the right. McKeown saved Adebayo's squirted shot and retrieved it before Walsall's striker could pounce. The half ended at 1 - 1. Town were competing, but needed to be smarter in their play and more alert in defence.

The second half started scrappily. Walsall's Pocket Hippie won a free kick, which led to nothing, and then probed and probed as Green writhed on the ground after a challenge. McKeown then pulled off a great save from Holden's shot. There were no signs of improvement from Town, who seemed to be playing for time. A poor clearance by Roberts in the Walsall goal on 59 minutes led to a Town attack but Hewitt's cross was poor. Öhman had a header on target following a Hessenthaler free-kick but Roberts gathered the ball easily. Öhman then reverted to his day job and pulled off a superb tackle at the other end to stop the advancing Adebayo. Cue the "Oh, man" chorus in appreciation from the Town supporters. There hadn't been much quality in the play but then on 69 minutes Hanson won a 50 - 50 ball with a crunching tackle on the Pocket Hippie, starting off a move into the Walsall half. Cook headed towards the box, weighed up his options and laid the ball off to Green on the right. Green's cross was perfect for the advancing Hanson who fired a bullet header past Roberts to the great delight of the 772 Town fans. Walsall 1, Town 2. Wright replaced Cook on 69 minutes. Walsall then had a succession of corners, and on 72 minutes Whitehouse committed a foul outside Town's box. Holden's left footed curling effort sneaked over the bar. Öhman blocked another Walsall effort, conceding another corner from which Gordon's flick forced a spectacular save from McKeown and another corner. Walsall continue to apply pressure. Iron Man Öhman cleared again. On 78 minutes Gibson replaced the tiring Ogbu, at the same time providing reinforcements in midfield. Wright meanwhile was causing difficulties for the Walsall defence on the right and was holding up the ball, which was much needed as Town hung on to their lead. Then on 80 minutes Wright pounced on a defensive error. The defender was unable to keep up and flattened him as he surged into the box. Penalty to Town. Hanson coolly slotted the ball past Roberts. Walsall 1, Town 3. Pollock replaced Green with a view to shoring up the game but Town were confident and dominated the game. Walsall were making mistakes and looked dispirited. "Is there a fire drill?" chanted the Town fans as their Walsall counterparts trooped out in droves. McKeown was called into action on 86 minutes but gathered Adebayo's volley comfortably. Four minutes were added to the 90, but by now it was a formality. Town were on top. The result had been in no doubt for some time. So it ended: Walsall 1, Grimsby Town 3.

After a sluggish start, Town lifted their game in the second half and dominated a demoralised Walsall with power and skill. The turning point was Hanson's crunching midfield tackle on Sinclair, which led to Town's second goal. After that there was no doubt about today's winners. There were great individual performances, notably from the hard-working Green on the flank, Öhman in defence and Wright who caused problems, injected added energy and prevented Walsall from generating any response, but above all from Hanson. This was a great day out at a friendly club. And Town were the Balti Kings.

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