MORE REPORTS AND REACTION
Observer report by Steve Hartshorn
STAGS SUFFER AGAINST BLAZING SADDLERS
Walsall 4 Mansfield Town 0
Wright 51, Keates 62 & 70, Gerrard 90+3
Att – 5,420.
League 2 leaders, Walsall proved just why they are in the position they are in with a second half goal-blitz against a Mansfield Town side who have now lost their last four away games without even scoring a goal.
The 2nd half collapse was in stark contrast to a 1st half where The Stags more than held their own against the most in form home side in the Division. Before Saturday Walsall had won all five of their home games, scoring 12 and conceding none, unfortunately for The Stags that record now reads, won 6, scored 16, let in none. A new club record
Under-fire Stags boss, Peter Shirtliff chose to start with a 4-5-1 formation and on the evidence of the 1st half, it looked as if he had played a master stroke as Mansfield nullified the Walsall midfield and left the Saddlers supporters bemoaning the fact that their side were struggling to have any impact on the game.
However as impressive the passing was by Mansfield in the centre of the park, the threat up front was frustratingly poor. Barker leading the line on his own was often asked to do more than he could and was given little support by the two wide men, Hamshaw and Jelleyman.
Stags though created the best opportunity when on 17 minutes Jelleyman's over hit cross was played back into the centre from the by-line by Hamshaw, the Walsall keeper Ince just got a hand to the ball, enough to off-put the waiting Lloyd, who from a difficult angle, volleyed over the bar.
In truth the 1st half was quite frustrating for both sets of supporters as both sides cancelled each other out. If it had been a boxing match, each boxer did nothing more than dance around their opponent letting loose the odd jab. Stags though would have been leading slightly on points.
If the first half was somewhat punch-less Walsall certainly smacked The Stags squarely on the nose not once but four times during 45 2nd half minutes that will want to be forgot by the success starved Mansfield faithful who are now beginning to wonder worryingly just what the rest of the season holds for their side.
To combat the Stags domineering 5 man midfield the start of the 2nd half saw Walsall also change their system to 4-5-1, Hector Sam being withdrawn and Craig Pead introduced. Whereas for The Stags, little fortune happened in front of goal, for the in-form home side it provided the ammunition as the Saddlers went goal-crazy.
Stags though did create the first opportunity of the half when Barker neatly set up Lloyd but his low shot was well saved by Ince.
The first of Walsall's four second half goals came on 51 minutes when substitute, Pead let fly from the edge of the box. White did well to get a hand to the ball, however as it fell loose, Mark Wright was on hand to steer the ball home.
On 57 minutes, Sheehan almost forced The Stags back into the game but his curling 20 yard free kick was saved by Ince, the keeper diving well to his right hand side to deny Stags what looked all on an equaliser.
Mid-week goalscoring hero, Danny Reet was introduced on 58 minutes for Lloyd as Shirtliff went in search of saving the game.
However on 62 minutes, disaster struck. Hjelde was penalized for holding the in-form Taylor outside the box and from the resulting free kick, Keates scored Walsall's 2nd. It was a personal calamity for young Stags keeper, Jason White, who having dived over to the left hand side, looked for all the world to have saved the effort, but unfortunately the ball squirmed loose and went under his body and into the net.
On 65 minutes, Reet went close but after out pacing the home defence hit his shot wide of the mark. Shirtliff put on Arnold for Sheehan, moving Hamshaw to the left side of midfield, Jelleyman to left back and Arnold on the right hand side of midfield.
Jake Buxton and Pead found themselves in the referee's notebook after a handbags episode on 72 minutes and Arnold fired a weak shot wide of the mark after good link up play with Baptiste as Stags tried in vain to get a foothold in the game.
The contest was over though on 76 minutes when Keates scored his second and Walsall's third of the encounter. Wright sending over a cross from the right where Keates from 10 yards and unmarked powered in a header. White could do nothing but stand and watch as the home crowd rose to their feet in celebration.
Reet and Barker were only inches from connecting with a superb cross by Jelleyman but it would have been scant consolation for Mansfield.
The misery was complete deep into injury time when Stags were penalized for a hand ball on the edge of the area. Keates whipped the ball into the six yard box where amongst a clutch of players, Anthony Gerrard got the vital touch to steer the ball home for Walsall's fourth.
After a promising 1st half, the end of the 2nd left many with a bitter taste in the mouth. Mansfield this weekend must raise to the challenge of near neighbours Notts County who come to Field Mill (2pm). County sit in sixth position in League 2 and have only lost once all season.
A collection for former Stags and Saddlers player, Matt Gadsby raised £1756.
SHIRTLIFF: WE HAVE TO PICK OURSELVES UP
Evening Post, 02 October 2006
A "crazy 45 minutes" cost Mansfield dearly as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat at Walsall, according to manager Peter Shirtliff.
Richard Money was delighted with the way his Walsall side adapted in the second half.
"There were not many chances in the first half and I was happy with things. At that point I never saw them scoring four goals," he said.
"So I was flabbergasted when they did. Their first goal was from their first shot on target and the second goal was a goalkeeping error.
"It is always hard when you go two goals down, but I was still disappointed with the character that the players showed after that."
Clayton Ince made two vital saves for Walsall when the game was still goal-less and when his side were 1-0 up.
And Shirtliff acknowledges those two contributions were crucial in allowing the Saddlers to take control.
He said: "Ince made a very good save from Sheehan's free-kick and a decent one from Lloyd and things like that change a game.
"He was the difference between the sides during that period of the game and without him things might have been different."
Shirtliff is firmly behind his young keeper Jason White after he fumbled Dean Keates' free-kick to gift Walsall a 2-0 lead.
"He's got to pick himself up and forget about that because there is no place to hide for a keeper or defender.
"You have to stay mentally and physically strong and he has to concentrate on preparing himself for the next game."
Early indications suggest Michael Boulding may be fit for Saturday's visit of Notts County after missing the trip to the West Midlands with a knee injury.
Stags were outpassed
The Saddlers were struggling to break down a resolute Mansfield side with a 4-5-1 formation.
But at half-time he chose to mirror the Stags' system by bringing on Craig Pead in place of Hector Sam - and that proved a masterstroke.
"It was a little bit of a struggle at times because Mansfield got men behind the ball and it was very frustrating in the first half," said Money. "But then we changed it to match their three in the centre of midfield with three of our own and backed them to outpass Mansfield - and I think they did that."
BUXTON: 'TIME TO FOCUS AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY'
Evening Post, 02 October 2006
Jake Buxton feels Mansfield have to stop being a soft touch if they are going to end their barren away run.
The Stags have yet to win away in League Two this season and have failed to net in the last four of those games - all of which have ended in defeat.
Defender Buxton knows there is no easy solution, but he is adamant the Stags must toughen up for things to get better.
"We have played Wycombe, Hartlepool and Walsall, who all like to play football and lost to them all - yet we are supposed to be better against teams like that," he said.
"So if we can't compete with teams like that then how are we going to compete against teams who boom it forward?
"We have to be tougher, nastier and stronger as a unit and more professional about what we are doing.
"Every individual has to take responsibility for the job they have and not rely on others doing it for them. Only if every man performs individually are we going to improve collectively."
Buxton insists Mansfield's game with Notts County on Saturday has become more important because of the side's poor away form.
He said: "We were hoping that we might get at least a point from Walsall and play Notts County with a bit of the pressure off.
"But now the match is vital for us because we have to get back on track, otherwise we are going to be looking over our shoulders at the bottom.
"We are all a bit down after what has happened but we have to pick ourselves up and focus again.
"I have said it before for other games but maybe a win over our rivals could finally kick-start our season."
PAYING PRICE FOR ERRORS
Evening Post, 02 October 2006
Walsall 4 - 0 Mansfield Town
PETER Shirtliff has often talked about small margins making a difference in Mansfield's matches.
And though there was a clear disparity between the two sides in Saturday's scoreline, it was a perfect game to sum up just what he meant.
With the sides level at 0-0 early in the second half, Walsall keeper Clayton Ince made a good save to keep out Callum Lloyd's drive and when the goalkeeper needed back up it came in the shape of Ian Roper, who completed the clearance.
Just moments later, Craig Pead found himself in a similar situation to Lloyd and Jason White produced what was probably an even better save.
But this time no Mansfield player was on hand to hack the ball from danger and Mark Wright tapped home.
Stags won a free-kick on the edge of the Walsall box and Alan Sheehan curled a superb shot goalwards, only for Ince to pull off a superb save.
Richard Money's side then earned a dangerous free-kick of their own. This time Dean Keates stepped up and his shot seemed much less menacing than Sheehan's.
But, after having the attempt covered, White allowed the ball to squirm underneath him to give Walsall a 2-0 lead.
Those contrasting fortunes from the two near-identical opportunities at either end were the sort of marginal moments Shirtliff was referring to - and decided the outcome of the game.
For Mansfield, there was no recovering from White's howler and they capitulated as Walsall began to relax in the knowledge that their proud home record - five wins out of five and a clean sheet in every one - was going to be extended.
It was no surprise that the Saddlers added two more when Keates netted his second with a header and Stephen Gerrard's cousin, Anthony, scored his first goal in a red shirt late on.
In fact, such was the nature of the surrender, many of the Mansfield fans - who had been so optimistic after the Stags had played out a goalless first half - had already left the ground and set off on the short journey home.
When he came up to the press box for his post-match interview, Shirtliff was clutching a video case that contained a recording of the match.
The second half is not going to make for pleasant viewing as he tries to figure out a way forward for Stags on their travels.
In their last four league games away from Field Mill, Mansfield have failed to register a single goal and have shipped nine.
It is true that those matches have been tough ones - Wycombe, Hartlepool, Torquay and Walsall are all likely to finish in the top half. But no points puts more pressure on the team to perform at home.
Shirtliff responded to the disappointing away performances with a change of tack at the Bescot.
He reverted to a 4-5-1 formation in a bid to frustrate Walsall, dropping the Darlington match winner Danny Reet to the bench and leaving skipper Richard Barker to plough a lone furrow up front.
With Stephen Dawson suspended having picked up five bookings, it meant Callum Lloyd and Giles Coke were recalled to the side in that midfield quintet.
The system worked to a point. Before the break, Walsall rarely had a sight of goal and it was Mansfield who fashioned the best chance when Lloyd fired just over the box as he stretched every sinew to get on the end of a Matt Hamshaw centre.
But once the Saddlers had adjusted after the restart by matching the Stags with three in central midfield, and then taken the lead, Mansfield were going to have to alter things if they wanted to get back into it.
And once Reet had been brought on to give the visitors two up front, it allowed Walsall to tighten their grip on the game by exploiting the gaps left when the more attack-minded visitors went in search of goals.
Jonathan D'Laryea again shone like a beacon as he excels in midfield. But too many of his team-mates are not producing the same level of performance for the full 90 minutes.
The side is crying out for an old head in the middle of the park to take games by the scruff on the neck and inspire others.
The Stags are a little too young and naive - and that weakness has surfaced time and again this season on the road.
However, before Mansfield look to cure their travel sickness at Boston and Macclesfield, they first have the little matter of a derby encounter against Notts County.
With the Magpies flying high and a sizeable and passionate support making the short journey up the A60, it is not going to be easy for the Stags to bounce back from this defeat.
But at least for such a big game, they will surely need no motivation.
Walsall 4 Mansfield 0
Sep 30 2006
By Brian Halford, Birmingham Mail
NEVER mind Money, it appears to be Midas pulling the strings for League Two leaders Walsall these days.
The first half of this match was an emphatic stalemate as Mansfield's 4-5-1 formation did an effective stifling job on the Saddlers.
Walsall struggled to penetrate. So at half-time manager Richard Money had a tweak.
In a switch that surprised many observers he sacrificed a striker - Hector Sam - and sent on another midfielder, Craig Pead.
Essentially, he matched Mansfield's five in there and trusted his players to be better than the opposition. They were. Not half.
Six minutes after the break, Pead was instrumental in the opening goal. Fed by Martin Butler, he stretched Jason White with a 14-yard shot and Mark Wright tapped in the rebound.
With Walsall still to concede at home in the league this season, that seemed to be job done.
And, after Clayton Ince preserved the lead with a terrific save from Alan Sheehan's low free-kick, the Saddlers flexed their attacking muscles and erased all doubt.
On 62 minutes, Dean Keates' free-kick headed for the bottom corner.
It was accurate, if less than explosive, but that was enough as White let the ball squirm under his body.
If that goal was fortunate, the next was superb. Kris Taylor, Anthony Gerrard and Danny Fox worked the ball out of a tight spot on the left.
Next thing you know, it's with Wright on the right. He skips a challenge and crosses for Keates, timing his run to perfection, to steer his header past White.
That was job done - and there was still time for Keates to turn provider in injury time, his free-kick lashed home by Gerrard.
The Saddlers' remarkable Bescot record goes on. Played six, won six, scored 16, conceded none.
Mansfield are a decent League Two team and had a good go but were assessed, matched, then unpicked.
The second half provided the thrills but the first offered its own evidence of why Walsall are where they are in the table.
Although the unit struggled for fluency, the spine of the team was terrific.
Ince commanded his box while Ian Roper dominated in front of him.
Michael Dobson bit into tackles and invariably spotted the telling out-ball. Up front, Butler again showed that his value far transcends the goals he scores.
Rock solid, those four. Mind you, the rest aren't too shabby right now.