Walsall eh? Bloody Walsall. You would be forgiven if you were sick of the sight of The Saddlers. After not facing each other for 14 years, this will be our fourth meeting inside four months! To make it even worse, we’ve failed to beat them in the previous three games, including the absolutely wild league fixture back in November.
Things have changed for this weekend’s visitors since then, though. Early in the season, Walsall enjoyed a surprisingly strong start and looked like play off contenders. To say their form has gone downhill since then would be something of an understatement.
Since our last League One encounter, Dean Keates’ men have only won four games. Only one of which has came away from home too, so that bodes well for Saturday... doesn’t it?
To find out if it does, what has gone wrong at Walsall and whether or not Dean Keates will keep his job, we once again caught up with Saddlers fansite Bescot Banter.
RR: When we spoke before the league game back in November you said you felt confident that Dean Keates and the team would “navigate out of the current issues” and would have you back in the form that took you towards the top of the table. Given that hasn’t transpired, is there any unrest/frustrations amongst the support at all?
BB: Plenty of frustration. Much of the fanbase are hugely frustrated with how the season seems to be panning out. From an unexpected opening, where we went unbeaten for the opening seven league games, to an all-too-familiar almost default setting which sees us go from game-to-game, unable to string a winning run together.
Thankfully, and largely thanks to several other sides also struggling to find consistent form, there is still an odd possibility of us finishing in a fairly comfortable top-half position, but that would do little to gloss over what has been a disappointing season overall.
RR: Dean Keates is very highly thought of at the club but is the pressure mounting due to your league position and the disappointing season? Do you envisage him being in charge next season?
BB: Yes, he’ll be with the club for at least another season. The club has backed Dean to the hilt, with transfer fees, backroom rebuilds, and much in-between, and will no doubt continue to do so.
Of course, that would be a much easier task if the team does ultimately manage to avoid relegation. It will be a bit more of a tough sell should we drop to the fourth tier.
RR: It feels like we’re well acquainted since this is our fourth meeting of the season! Which players are impressing at the minute, despite your league position?
BB: Aside from top-scorer Andy Cook, who should be making his return to the starting line-up after serving a three game suspension, there are several players who could pose a threat to you this weekend. Summer signings Morgan Ferrier and Josh Gordon have been entering solid performances as of late, with the former ending a fairly lengthy dry spell by scoring against Fleetwood last weekend.
Defenders Dan Scarr and Jon Guthrie are in the early stages of a hopefully successful partnership. Jon, who bagged a brace in a losing effort against Portsmouth in midweek, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there is no denying his ability when he’s focused on the task in hand.
Finally, we have to mention midfielder Liam Kinsella. The academy graduate has been in fine form for much of the season and is currently enjoying a spell in the first-team after forcing the manager to select him, despite the gaffer seemingly preferring other options ahead of the former Republic of Ireland Under-19 international.
RR: Reversing that one, who will you be keeping an eye on our squad? Anyone stand out in the quick trio of fixtures we had against each other?
BB: It always pays to watch out for former players, so Will Grigg will no doubt be on the end of the odd boo or two. In terms of other players to watch, Aiden McGeady is always going to pose a danger, with eleven goals and six assists so far this season he is without a doubt the one to watch.
Although not a frequent first-teamer by any means, on loan Tottenham striker Kazaiah Sterling looks like a huge prospect and following his brief spell towards the end of your draw with Barnsley, could pose a late threat to us should the game still be in the balance.
RR: How will Keates approach this game and what do you expect his starting line up to be?
BB: We don’t expect the manager to change too much from the midweek defeat to Portsmouth. There are plenty of fringe players looking to get back into the team but given we’ve lost just one of the last four it would be a mistake to tinker too much.
With that being said we currently expect the starting eleven to consist of Liam Roberts, Nicky Devlin, Dan Scarr, Jon Guthrie, Luke Leahy, Zeli Ismail, George Dobson, Joe Edwards, Liam Kinsella, Morgan Ferrier and Andy Cook.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction, please?
BB: As ever, we’re often wrong with predictions - look at our season preview for added evidence! We’ll go with a score draw. One all?