Latics face high-flying Saddlers at the DW Stadium on Saturday.
- A win for Gary Caldwell’s side could see them move into Sky Bet League One’s top six.
- Walsall have picked up 13 points from a possible 15 on the road so far this season.
- Latics unbeaten in five home league games (W3 D2).
Gary Caldwell’s Latics have lost one goal leads in both of their two last fixtures and, drawing with Oldham Athletic and Millwall, and sit ninth in the table with 15 points from ten games. Dean Smith’s Saddlers are six points ahead in second place after winning four of their five away games so far this campaign.
Similarly to the visit of Millwall on Tuesday night, both sides go into this game looking to protect their unbeaten home and away records.
Latics added Yanic Wilschut and Donald Love to their squad on Thursday and Friday respectively but they will be without Jason Pearce, Craig Davies, Haris Vuckic, Grant Holt, Shaquile Coulthirst and Don Cowie due to injuries and ongoing recoveries whilst Jordan Flores will serve the second game of his three match suspension.
Tickets are still available for the clash at the DW Stadium (kick-off 3pm) and fans can purchase up until kick-off from the DW Stadium Ticket Office [click here for the further details].
Now in their ninth consecutive season in the third tier, Walsall are the second longest occupants of a place in League One behind Oldham Athletic who are currently participating in their 19th campaign. Experience could prove key in what is expected to be a close call for promotion come the end of this League One season and the Saddlers know what it is all about, after eight seasons of consolidation with a ninth place finish in 2013 their best effort in that period and a 20th place finish in 2011 their worst.
In Dean Smith, they have a manager who knows the club well having come through the ranks at the old Fellows Park ground and his project with the Saddlers is now into its fifth full season after he replaced former Wigan Athletic boss Chris Hutchings at the helm. Now at the Banks’s Stadium, Walsall achieved their first-ever Wembley appearance last season, though they went down 2-0 to Bristol City in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Despite the positive of a first Wembley visit, last season saw Walsall flirt with possible relegation as a 1-0 defeat at Chesterfield in March left them 16th in the table, just three points above the drop zone. However, a run of four consecutive clean sheets for current Latics stopper Richard O’Donnell and five goals in eight games from striker Jordy Hiwula, currently on loan at the DW Stadium from Huddersfield Town, steered the Saddlers to safety, despite an 8-2 defeat to Champions Bristol City on the final day.
Richard O'Donnell departed Walsall to join Latics this summer.
This summer has seen Smith fine-tuning his squad with the main focus on keeping leading marksman Tom Bradshaw at the Banks’s Stadium after he notched 17 league goals last term. O’Donnell’s contract expired and he moved to Wigan Athletic, whilst Hiwula’s loan ended and Ben Purkiss left for Port Vale. Long-serving full back James Chambers also retired. As replacements, Cypriot international Jason Demetriou has returned to English football with the Saddlers after spending time with Anorthosis Famagusta to strengthen his international credentials, whilst Milan Lalkovic, who had a loan spell with Walsall in 2013-14 from Chelsea, signed permanently for the Midlands outfit and Neil Etheridge, formerly of Fulham and Charlton Athletic, arrived as O’Donnell’s replacement.
Barring a trip to Luton Town, Walsall stayed local for their pre-season campaign, kicking it off with a 1-0 defeat at AFC Telford United before a young side defeated neighbours Rushall Olympic 2-0. A 1-1 home draw with Premier League Aston Villa followed before former Latics James McClean and Callum McManaman helped West Bromwich Albion win 2-0 at the Banks’s Stadium thanks to goals from Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye. Pre-season was concluded with a 1-0 win at Kenilworth Road, Bradshaw scoring his first goal of the campaign in the success over the League Two side.
The season kicked off at home against Oldham Athletic with Jonathan Forte equalising late on for the Manchester-based side after Romaine Sawyers had given the hosts the lead. That was quickly followed by a 4-3 win at Championship side Nottingham Forest in the first round of the Capital One Cup, a Bradshaw hat-trick securing a home fixture with Brighton & Hove Albion in the second round. Wins over Southend United, Rochdale and Coventry City lifted Walsall to second ahead of their second round tie with the Seagulls, an affair they would come out on top of with Rico Henry scoring four minutes from time to secure progress and set up a tie with Premier League Champions Chelsea at the Banks’s Stadium in the third round.
A 4-0 win at Blackpool sent Walsall top but they wouldn’t repeat their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy heroics of last season as they crashed out of the first round at Morecambe before losing their first league game of the season at Bury early in September. The Saddlers recovered to win 2-0 at home to Doncaster Rovers, two late Bradshaw goals sending them back to second, though back-to-back 1-1 draws with Peterborough United and Crewe Alexandra meant they could dislodge Burton Albion from top spot. The only League One side to make the third round of the Capital One Cup, with Carlisle United the only lower ranked team in the last 32, Walsall took on Chelsea in between those two draws, losing out 4-1 to Jose Mourinho’s side, though they drew praise from the Portuguese boss who saw his side run close before second-half strikes from Ramires and Pedro added gloss to a score-line that was perhaps, on performance, was closer than the three-goal margin suggested.
No room to breathe for Chelsea's Falcao against hard-working Walsall.
A 1-0 win at Scunthorpe United on Tuesday evening has kept up the pressure on the Brewers, though, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side drew 0-0 with Sheffield United leaving the Saddlers just a point off the pace with the knowledge that they will go top if they better Burton’s result at home to Southend United today and Gillingham fail to beat Oldham at home.
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