SMITH DISMISSES RELEGATION TALK
SIMILARITIES between these two slow-starters were not difficult to come by – both off the pitch and on it – as a first win of the season still eludes Walsall and Colchester.
Small budgets, small fan bases, playing in the shadow of wealthy neighbours with a big focus on bringing talent through their own academies.
And the off-pitch comparisons continued this week as United’s Tony Humes, like Walsall counterpart Dean Smith before him, was promoted from youth team boss to main man.
On the pitch, meanwhile, both look set for a season of struggle, each displaying a clear lack of confidence in this encounter, particularly in front of goal.
Saddlers boss Smith did not agree though, bristling at any suggestion of a relegation dogfight after seeing his men enjoy the best chances in a cagey affair.
He said: “I think we are six points away from the play-offs, so are we in a relegation battle after six games? No, I don’t think so.
“There were periods in the game where we lacked urgency and the really good chances that we had, we didn’t hit the target with them.
“It just needed a goal to spark us.The failure to hit the target was disappointing because I really felt that if we scored at any time, the floodgates could open.”
The Saddlers boss is without almost a whole team due to an injury crisis he has not known the like of during his near four-year stint in the Banks’s Stadium hotseat.
He added:“We had eight players unavailable and I think that would test Roy Hodgson’s England squad if he was missing Sturridge, Sterling, Cahill – players like that.
“That’s the kind of calibre of players – comparatively – that we’ve got missing at the moment.”
Humes meanwhile, was just pleased to see the U’s end the run of four consecutive defeats that had cost previous boss Joe Dunne his job.
While Walsall’s woes are in front of goal – netting just three in six league games – United have struggled to keep teams out, so Humes was delighted with a first clean sheet of the season.
He said: “The back four will gain confidence from that and they are understanding a few little bits and pieces that we are asking them to do differently.
“Hopefully they will get a bit of belief because we defended really well and limited Walsall to very little.
“These are the sort of games we’ve been losing. We gained a point – our second point of the season – and it’s a step in the right direction.
“We had a lot of play in and around the final third but perhaps people didn’t make the right runs and maybe at times we were guilty of not picking out the right areas to hit with the crosses.”
Both hit the woodwork early on, Freddie Sears’ sweet first-time 25-yard shot striking the base of the post for Colchester, while Tom Bradshaw’s glancing header clipped the bar for Walsall.
Adam Chambers fluffed a great chance from six yards for Walsall, but United shaded the first period and only last-ditch blocks from Paul Downing and the excellent James O’Connor denied Sears and Sammie Szmodics surefire openers.
After the break, Colchester had a loud appeal for a penalty – labelled ‘fairly blatant’ by Humes – turned down when the lively Sanchez Watt went to ground under Downing’s challenge.
From there, it turned into a catand-mouse game that both sides were desperate not to lose and only in the dying minutes did that change as Walsall twice came close.
But U’s keeper Sam Walker produced a fine save to foil Anthony Forde’s free-kick and Bradshaw dragged wide for the Saddlers.
NOT QUITE: Reece Flanagan goes close for Walsall as Colchester kept their first clean sheet of the season
HANDS OFF: George Moncur holds off a challenge