Bent seals points

JOY, relief or just the sheer venting of frustration, whatever, the roar at the final whistle was as heartfelt and loud by 20,000 as the one after the victory over Inter Milan here nearly two years ago.

JOY, relief or just the sheer venting of frustration, whatever, the roar at the final whistle was as heartfelt and loud by 20,000 as the one after the victory over Inter Milan here nearly two years ago.

Town were lifted off the bottom of the table by an Alun Armstrong penalty and the winner by Darren Bent.

Gary Birch had equalised for Walsall and all the old doubts flooded back in briefly but a spirited second-half showing, backed by a terrific crowd, showed bottom they may have been but out of it they definitely are not.

The call has been for character, commitment and calm.


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Well it was not always calm but the Blues were not lacking in the other qualities.

Defeats by the top three, Wigan, West Ham and West Brom in the past three games, left Town in their worst position in nearly 50 years and victory over a struggling Walsall side, who had not won since their opening day 4-1 victory over Albion, was a must.

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And how Town delivered. It was the much-maligned midfield that provided the platform for success. Jermaine Wright is not everyone's favourite player but his effort, passing and movement, especially in the second half, outshone even the efforts of Paul Merson and Vinnie Samways.

Fabian Wilnis ignored sore hamstrings to bomb forward to deliver dangerous crosses and skipper Jim Magilton refused to wilt. Even if mistakes were made, no heads dropped and guts were shown in abundance.

Royle promised changes but surprisingly it was Richard Naylor who was dropped with Georges Santos going in at centre-half.

Less surprising was Darren Bent starting in place of Pablo Counago, who he had replaced at half-time in the 4-1 defeat at West Brom.

Walsall also made changes with Jorge Leitao dropped and Gary Birch given his first start of the season. Their big surprise was that Deon Burton, signed on loan from Portsmouth, did not even make the 16.

Town knew that nothing less than a win would be acceptable and they started brightly and the relief was palpable when Armstrong sent James Walker the wrong way from the spot in the 13th minute.

The Saddlers keeper had been sold short by a poor Steve Corica back-pass and missed the ball and clattered into Bent.

The Blues, urged on by a noisy support, went looking for another but failed to test Walker again and Walsall equalised on the half hour.

The Town defence had been given a warning when Wrack, a right-winger playing at left-back, stole in to get in an unchallenged header.

When Mahon conceded a free-kick on Walsall's right flank, earning a booking in the process, the defence should have had enough time to get organised.

But Birch was able to meet Samways' left-footed free-kick and head past a static Kelvin Davis from eight yards.

Bent's much-needed goal came midway through the second half when Wright slipped a ball down the right flank for Wilnis to deliver a looping cross.

The England under-21 international stooped to meet the ball on the six-yard line and direct it cleverly past Walker.

Even a series of first-half free-kicks failed to produced anything for Town, although Jermaine Wright went close with a wonderfully struck 22-yard volley.

Early in the second half Bent met a terrific left-footed cross by Richards, with an equally impressive drive but Walker saved well at the base of a post.

He had earlier volleyed over a sweet Magilton pass and then could not control a through ball by Wilnis when clean through.

Walker was helped by Ritchie when Diallo headed a powerful effort goal-wards and the keeper was in the right place to take a great shot on the turn by the technically excellent Armstrong.

Mahon looked lively throughout and brought out an excellent save by Walker when the increasingly influential Wright put him in.

Davis produced an equally stunning stop to deny Wrack again from a point-blank header at the far post from a Merson ball.

Counago went on for Armstrong at the same time and shot agonisingly across goal after Magilton threaded a ball in for him.

The Spaniard might have scored at the death but was foiled by Walker and a Westlake follow-up was deflected for a corner.

While the wily old Merson was spraying quality balls all around, Town's passing, which started so promisingly, started to go ragged.

But the former England midfielder was quietened in the second half, as was Samways.

On-loan midfielder Mahon showed a lot of good moments including a super run through the middle, beating two defenders before his long-range shot was deflected wide.

His withdrawal 13 minutes from time brought about a smattering of boos, although Ian Westlake instantly delivered an excellent cross.

Chris Bart-Williams, on loan from Charlton, looked more settled playing deep and bursting forward spasmodically. His passing and movement looked good for a while.

Indeed the whole performance, especially second half, indicated that good times could well just be around the corner but they must follow this with a win at home to Wimbledon on Saturday.

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