Walsall power past Southend courtesy an Erhun Oztumer hattrick
Due to extreme weather conditions, many games in English football were cancelled Saturday. Only three League One contests were greenlighted, with Southend v Walsall included. Both sides are hovering mid-table but needed the points to further distance themselves from relegation worries.
Before this fixture at Roots Hall, Walsall hadn't won in three matches. Southend had claimed three of their last four. It seemed the frozen pitch was tilted in their favour. Winds can change abruptly, however. The match at Southend-on-Sea flowed in the Saddlers' direction.
Within the hour the deadlock was broken. Julien Ngoy laid off the ball to Erhun Oztumer. The Englishman of Turkish and Cypriot ethnicity then dribbled across Southend's penalty area before beating Mark Oxley with a low driven shot at the near post.
Oztumer's second came just nine minutes later. His freekick from around 20 yards on the right flank arched over the wall and beat Oxley again.
The third and final goal resulted from a low Luke Leahy cross from the left flank. It found Oztumer in the box where he sealed his hat-trick. The 26-year-old has proven a key player for manager Jon Whitney. Oztumer's 15 League One goals are driving the Saddlers towards safety and another League One season in 2018/19.
His hattrick follows a stretch where he has struggled to make an impact. Sometimes when the goals dry up, it only takes one to start a torrent. Despite his 15 strikes, some performances have been adjudged lacklustre by Walsall fans. Nonetheless, his recent outings have played into Whitney's emphasis on drive and momentum.
Supporters had expected a playoff push this season. Instead, the side is stuck in no man's land, 13th, seven points above the drop but nine behind Plymouth Argyle in sixth. For the faithful, it's the same old story. This is the Saddlers' 11th consecutive season in League One and their 130th at the level in their existence. It's easy to understand the frustration. That said, Walsall isn't the most financially successful club around. They must be careful about their spending as they lack the resources to compete with most Championship clubs, let alone those in the top flight.
Walsall's next fixture comes at home to bottom side Rochdale on Tuesday night. The Dale are 12 points inside the relegation zone although they have four or five games in hand over various teams. Pitch problems at Spotland Stadium caused several matches to be postponed. The issue has since been sorted, but the club has the opportunity to, pun intended, make up ground. Their deep run in the FA Cup, which ended at Wembley, albeit in the 5th Round replay against Tottenham rather than the final, may inspire the Greater Manchester outfit.
Walsall will not want to encourage that hope. A strong effort will get the fans behind the players again. The last thing any side wants is to play in a toxic atmosphere. No, Mr Wenger, I wasn't thinking of Arsenal but since you mention it...
Looking at the table, three points against the cellar dwellers could very well secure Walsall's 131st season in the third tier and 12th on the trot. Fans won't be thrilled, but they'll take it.