SMITH DIS­MISSES REL­E­GA­TION TALK

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Michael Beard­more

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.

PIC­TURES: Pin­na­cle

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

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