There was a sense of foreboding well before kick-off, which was nothing to do with Walsall’s supposed hex over Sheffield United.
The reason for this was that having learned in advance that United would be wearing last season’s away kit because of an apparent colour clash with both red and white stripes and black and orange, there was a danger that the team might lapse back into last season’s malaise and disorganisation.
Of course, the style of kit has no more or less bearing on how a team performs than the fact that they’re playing their bogey team, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. United’s players, coaching staff and fans know what Walsall are good at, but stopping them doing it is another matter.
A few minutes in and it appeared that little had been learned from the previous meeting at Bramall Lane.
Things got back on an even keel after Jack O’Connell’s equaliser and after that it was going mostly to plan until … those 15 or 20 catastrophic minutes, when it all fell apart and the ghost of last season returned with a vengeance.
The strange thing is that Walsall’s mediocre record this season shows that plenty of teams know how to deal with them. Hopefully we won’t be playing them next season.
But the most interesting and encouraging thing was the reaction of the fans at the end.
True, hundreds had left early, but the feeling amongst those who remained was initially one of puzzlement. How had this happened? It was totally unexpected. Then as the players approached sheepishly chants and applause rang out in support of the team from the away sections of the ground.
The fans realise that despite wearing last season’s kit, this is not last season’s team. With their performances so far the players have earned the right to have an off day. After all, there have no been many of them this season, unlike the last one.