At 5pm on December 8th, Walsall had just been humiliated at Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena, losing 5-1 in what was one of the most inept performances Saddlers fans had witnessed for years – and believe me there has been stiff competition!
It was the club’s 15th game without a win stretching back to the end of September and, after a promising start, Walsall had slipped to just three points above the drop zone and looked destined for a third successive season battling to avoid the dreaded drop to the basement division.
The following week, Yeovil visited the West Midlands and snatched a point despite being 2-0 down with 15 minutes remaining. Another demoralising turn of events, and it was difficult to see where the next win would come from.
Manager Dean Smith had many critics at the time, myself included, but the board stuck with him during an extremely rough patch. Something that you would not see at many other clubs – Blackburn Rovers being a prime example! Smith rode the storm and stuck to his principles; an admirable show of strength from such a young manager.
Fast forward four months, to the return fixtures with Yeovil and Coventry over the Easter weekend, and a remarkable turnaround has seen the club climb to within touching distance of the play-off places. Patience it seems really is a virtue.
The record since December 8th now reads: P 21 W 12 D 7 L 2 – title winning form.
The true statement of intent from Dean Smith’s men came on Easter Monday when, this time around, it was Coventry who received the humiliation. Even without 19-goal top scorer, Will Grigg, Walsall were rampant and easily ran home 4-0 winners.
Off the pitch there are signs of progress too. The normal Walsall routine every summer is to release 15 players and bring in 15 new players. This year that will be different. Ten senior players are already signed up for the 2013/14 season. Captain Andy Butler has committed his future to Walsall, along with Jamie Paterson, George Bowerman, Ashley Hemmings, Mal Benning, Sam Mantom, James Baxendale, Andy Taylor, Paul Downing and Nicky Featherstone.
The club are also hoping to tie down star forwards Will Grigg and Febian Brandy in the coming weeks. Both players have been instrumental since Christmas, and in keeping them, Walsall will have a very strong basis to start next season from.
With four games to go it is still a lot to ask for Walsall to make the play-offs. Realistically, the full 12 points is going to be needed, but on this form, even that is not beyond the Saddlers.
Sheffield United will be the latest visitors to “Fortress Bescot” this weekend, and whatever happens for the remaining four games, this season has been a good season for Walsall FC – it is now just a question of whether it can become a truly great season.
Written by Tom Miller, We Are Going Up’s Walsall Blogger
Tom tweets @likelyladtom