With Barnsley only drawing last night it's now in our own hands to overtake them but we need to win our two games in hand to do that. Walsall have been a bit of a bogey team for us this season as we haven't managed to beat them in three attempts so this afternoon things will have to change. I don't know whether Flanagan will still be out or about any other absences but I think we should have enough to beat Walsall, who are on the verge of relegation and have lost seventeen times so far this season. We can no doubt expect the usual resolute defending and it probably isn't going to be pretty but if we go at them from the off and get an early goal... Things aren't usually that easy for us so I'm prepared for a struggle to break them down. I'll not be at the game but will be tuning in online again. Match prediction: 2-0 to us.
When the team news came through I saw that both Baldwin and Flanagan were starting while Dunne was on the bench and I was pleased to see Morgan was starting too, instead of Gooch. Morgan's a game-changer and that made me feel even more confident that we'd win. I got SAFSEE online and the fans were making plenty of noise. Walsall got a corner after a minute or so but McLaughlin grabbed it though we weren't so fortunate two minutes later when following a Walsall free-kick on the edge of our box Gordon back-heeled the ball into the net to put them one-up. Our play sounded sloppy and we were giving chances away too easily especially to the speedy Gordon. We had the ball in their net in the fourteenth minute following a free-kick but ref Alan Young ruled it out for a foul. Shortly afterwards co-commentator Gary Bennett said, “Sunderland need to wake up. Simple as that.” He added that both Flanagan and Morgan's distribution was poor. Morgan had a decent shot that went just wide in the twenty-first minute and that was more like it as Walsall had sounded more likely to score again. Morgan soon had another good effort that Roberts in goal parried for a corner. Grigg was down injured for a while, just to add to our great afternoon so far, but happily he managed to return to the play. Morgan was certainly plugging away at their goal and surely one of his efforts would go in before long.
By the half-hour mark we'd bucked up and were doing most of the attacking but when Walsall broke they sounded dangerous, with Ismail getting a worrying amount of room. Anyway, within a few minutes we were level when from a corner Catts smashed the ball from an acute angle and it went in, albeit with a deflection or two. Surely they can't take it away from goal-machine Catts, can they (even though his effort sounded like it was going for a throw-in)? Leadbitter was the first to be yellow-carded but our fans were still singing after our goal. Grigg did everything right but Roberts saved very well to deny him. If we could nick another before the break, then I felt sure we'd win it. Gordon was still sounding dangerous, though, and we'd have to tighten up on him. Matthews and O'Nien had switched sides, probably to cut out Ismail's threatening runs. There were three added minutes but it remained 1-1- at the interval, which was greeted with a good deal of applause. We'd started badly but finally we fought our way back into it and Gary Bennett said we had to increase our tempo.
As we kicked off again the crowd was announced – 34,647 with 647 coming from Walsall (really?). We started in a promising way with a Leadbitter shot swerving just over the bar and then we won a corner. Catts was awarded his usual yellow and with both him and Leadbitter in the book we'd have to go a bit steady. A McGeady shot was parried for another corner from which a Power header went just over. We were certainly stacking up the corners but needed to make one count. Another powerful strike from Leadbitter was saved by Roberts and we were doing nearly all the attacking while our fans we chanting, “We're by far the greatest football team...” We made our first substitution not long after the hour when we brought on Gooch for Catts, quite possibly because of his earlier booking. Five minutes later we brought on Hume for Matthews and the commentators wondered whether we'd bring Wyke on as our last sub. There was till more than twenty minutes to go, though, so we had plenty of time to get that winner. Wyke duly came on for Morgan in the seventy-first minute and we went 4-4-2. Within a minute or so that substitution had paid off and we were ahead with Grigg tucking it away in the corner after a good touch by Wyke. It was pacing around the room time away for me as I wondered if we could hold out. Walsall hadn't had a shot on target so far in the second-half but of course they just needed one. Those minutes were ticking away pleasingly quickly and there hadn't been much in the way of stoppages till Roberts in goal splattered one of his defenders, Scarr, and that was going to add a few minutes. Walsall rallied a lot as the end approached and I could've done without those four minutes of stoppage-time but we held out and achieved a crucial win. We're now two points behind Barnsley with a game in hand. Just to add to a very pleasing afternoon, Luton only drew and so did Charlton.
This was harder than I thought it would be so fair dues to Walsall and who do they play next? Barnsley. Sock it to them, lads.