Killer touch missing as fine effort unrewarded
Reporter: MATTHEW CHAMBERS
Date online: 15 January 2014
Walsall 1, Athhletic 0
“OLDHAM are one of the best teams we have played this season,” they said. Again.
This time it was Febian Brandy, joining Rotherham manager Steve Evans on the list of love-to-hate nemeses who love-to-love Latics.
“We couldn’t do any more,” Athletic pleaded, again. Lee Johnson was right, from a staff’s perspective. Preparations and plans were nigh-on perfect, as was the performance at the Banks’s Stadium.
But this was a tale of missed chances, again. This time the prime culprit was misfiring striker Adam Rooney, whose penalty in added time was saved by former Athletic loan goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell to deny the visitors a draw. The substitute had earlier fluffed another golden opportunity.
Bad luck was blamed, again. James Dayton hit a post with a 25-yard free-kick; Danny Philliskirk’s
follow-up flashed across the face of goal. James Tarkowski’s shot, blocked by a stray hand in the first half, didn’t produce a spot-kick.
The final outcome was no points, again. Walsall took all three, helping the Saddlers into a play-off position.
The differences between Walsall and Athletic are both small and huge. This entertaining contest – a superb advert for crisp, passing play – illustrated the peculiarity perfectly.
The Saddlers had four real scoring opportunities at best. Oldham were in control for most of the first half and large parts of the second.
Buoyed by a double substitution made after conceding, they could have had a hatful, but for the great form shown by O’Donnell.
The margins may be fine. But add up all of the rotten luck and – more pertinently – lax play in both penalty areas in 2013-14 and a trend is clear.
Athletic are good. They often pass well, move intelligently and close down keenly. But this team is simply not mean-spirited enough. This was the sixth time Dean Smith’s side has won by one goal this season. It was the 10th time Athletic has lost by a single goal in a dozen league defeats.
Within those statistics lies the reason why Johnson’s side are 10 places and 14 points below the
In a fair and just universe, a point would have been the outcome for the visitors. Athletic’s prospects seemed good when James Wesolowski was tripped in the area by Downing, after Harkins had neatly sent him in.
Rooney may feel he was unlucky to see a powerful spot-kick saved by O’Donnell, who flew to his right to push the ball away.
But the goalkeeper revealed that he had a good idea of what to expect: “We do our homework and have an idea of the way they are going to go,” said a smiling O’Donnell. “We picked that way and luckily it went that way.”
Some might call it luck. Others might describe it as the perfect execution of detailed preparation.
Hats off to Walsall, thinking caps on for Athletic.
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