By David Evans (from the Walsall Web Fans website)
Following the last two dour seasons in which Walsall have battled against relegation, their long suffering supporters are hopeful for a far brighter season as manager Dean Smith starts his second full season in the hot seat at Bescot.
The ‘revolving door’ culture has been a talking point for the last few seasons. Every manager who manages The Saddlers knows he has his hands tied behind his back as historically they have one of the smallest if not the smallest budgets in League One. It’s a constant battle to assemble squads against a backdrop of so very little money.
Gates have dropped over the last five or six seasons leaving a hard core support of around 3,500 at best. Relations between the club’s owner Jeff Bonser and the fans are not great. Rent and freehold issues are at the root of all this which saw a peaceful sit-in at a game two years ago. As a result, the owner no longer attends games on matchdays and has stopped giving interviews.
Any young players who show promise are soon sold on. Matty Fryatt, Julian Bennett, Danny Fox, Scott Dann, Ant Gerrard and Troy Deeney have all left in recent times to higher divisions all for ‘undisclosed’ fees.
Manager Smith is a former Walsall captain who went on to serve Hereford United, Sheffield Wednesday and Leyton Orient and it was there that he started coaching and became assistant manager to Martin Ling. Following a spell as head of youth at the Bescot, he was named team manager replacing Chris Hutchings. Smith has slowly but surely got The Saddlers back on track and remains upbeat and focussed on the job in hand. He has the backing of the supporters who realisle what a tough job he has. Realistically mid table would appease the fans after the last two seasons.
Walsall have made around ten signings in the summer. The defence has been bolstered by centre back Dean Holden who has served the likes of Bolton, Oldham, Chesterfield and Rochdale and the 32 year-old has forged a good partnership with captain Andy Butler.
Butler is another player who has been around the block a bit with Scunthorpe and Huddersfield amongst his former clubs. He is a rock-solid defender who leads by example. Likes to go up for corners and set-pieces and even up front when chasing games in the latter stages. He is Walsall’s key player and so popular with the fans and is the current player of the season.
Adam Chambers is a cultured midfielder now in his second season and he has been joined by his twin brother James on a non-contract basis. They were together at West Brom.
Northern Ireland international Will Grigg has been handed the No9 shirt this season and is battling with George Bowerman for a striking role.
Another player to watch is midfielder Flo Cuvelier who is on loan from Stoke City. The youngster had rave reviews in his loan spell with the club last season and was wanted by Middlesborough in the summer.
Walsall’s league season got off to a shock 0-3 home defeat against Doncaster Rovers, however, the team battled hard the following Tuesday evening to earn a 1-1 draw at Oldham when it looked like another defeat was on the cards snatching a point from substitute George Bowerman.
The first win of the season came at Meadow Lane, where despite soaking up a lot of first half pressure, The Saddlers got their passing game going and gradually took control of the game. Andy Butler scrambled home the winner in such a confidence-boosting encounter.
Next up came a home game against Brentford and despite taking a 2-0 lead through George Bowerman and Jamie Patterson were guilty of two defensive lapses in the final four-minutes which resulted in a 2-2 draw.
Last Saturday Walsall beat MK Dons at home thanks to a Dean Holden goal to send The Saddlers into 9th spot. The Portsmouth game on Saturday is an interesting one.
Fan Prediction: Pompey will be heartened by their win at Crawley whilst Walsall are playing some good football at times and in fairly good form. My prediction is a 1-1 draw.