Cisak saves the day

Date published: 15 February 2012

We made it tough, admits manager

THE OUTSTRETCHED left arm of villain-turned-hero Alex Cisak earned Athletic maximum points last night, helping stave off what would have been a dramatic late Walsall comeback and leaving manager Paul Dickov a very relieved man.

“We don’t like making things easy for ourselves,” said Athletic’s boss, after witnessing a near-collapse from being two excellent goals to the good.

In front of a paltry crowd of 2,583 at Boundary Park — Athletic's second-lowest home attendance of the npower League One season — wing wizardry from Keanu Marsh-Brown on his debut helped set up a sweet second-minute strike for Filipe Morais.

Robbie Simpson’s smart volley doubled the advantage just after the half-hour.

The comfort of that position disappeared when Cisak dived over a Florent Cuvelier drive and when the Saddlers were awarded a penalty deep into added time at the end of the game, Athletic’s custodian leapt to his left to turn Alex Nicholls’ spot-kick around the post.

“That was a performance without the captain, the vice-captain and arguably your most consistent player,” said Dickov, referring to the respective absences from the team sheet of injured trio Dean Furman, Zander Diamond and James Wesolowski.

“We had two central midfielders out, Zander out and with Robbie (Simpson) only having trained a little bit on the morning of the game.

“Take that into account and it is a great three points.

“Alex doesn’t need me to tell him he made a mistake for the first goal. But it isn’t just Alex, it runs through the team and it is about concentration levels when you are ahead.

“Whether two-up or two-down, you have to do the right things that win you football matches. We stopped doing them.”

Athletic stay 16th in the npower League One table, though the feel-good impact of what was ultimately a hard-earned win could resonate over what will be a frantic period of forthcoming matches.

Dickov knows his side need to cut out silly errors, but also feels that there were plenty of plus points to take out of the performance — not least the efforts in central midfield of Chris Taylor, in defence by an increasingly-confident James Tarkowski and the clear potential shown on his left-wing debut by the exciting Marsh-Brown.

“Keanu is quick, but I still think there is more to come from him,” Dickov added, ahead of the ex-Fulham teenager’s upcoming return to MK Dons on Saturday, the club he represented while on loan from Craven Cottage last term.

“I think he is quicker than that and better than that.

“You have to remember, that is the kid’s first start and first 90 minutes this season. There is a lot more to come.

“His decision-making can be better, when to keep and when to release the ball.

“But he is a big talent. If we can keep him on the straight and narrow, then he has a big future ahead of him.

“We all know Chris likes to beat players and put crosses in, but he was very disciplined – and that comes with experience.

“He was one of the senior boys out there, particularly in midfield with it being Keanu’s first start of the season.

“The maturity he showed was fantastic. he kid (Tarkowski) is growing every game and I just wish he would have a bit more belief in himself. He is in the team because he deserves to be and he will stay in the team. He won everything in the air and is a good footballer for a big lad. He and Jean-Yves (Mvoto) were solid.”