Can Sky Blues capitalise on Saddlers’ slump?
COVENTRY City take on their off-colour League One rivals Walsall in the first round of the FA Cup this weekend.
Despite starting the season as one of the division’s surprise packages up among the early pace setters, the Saddlers have slumped in recent weeks and slipped to mid-table.
They have lost four of their last five games and are looking for a pick-me-up against the Sky Blues who, in contrast, are brimming with confidence from a six-game unbeaten run So what’s gone wrong and what can Coventry City fans expect from the Saddlers when they travel in force to the Banks’s Stadium.
Here Walsall reporter Joe Masi of the Express and Star gives the lowdown on Saturday’s opposition:
What were the expectations at the start of the season after last year’s relegation battle?
“They weren’t high initially because I think it was the day before the season started against Plymouth at home Walsall had hardly any players.
“They signed three on the Friday – Morgan Ferrier, Jack Fitzwater and Kane Wilson – and before they signed Fitzwater they had just one centre-back, so they were 24 hours away from starting the season with one central defender. So there was no real expectation other than to stay up really. But they started the season really well.”
How is manager Dean Keates doing?
“He came in last year and put them in a 4-4-2 formation and they have just been so well organised. Everyone knows and sticks to their jobs perfectly and they have become a proper, well organised team.
“And that’s why I think they started so well when they were unbeaten in their first ten games in all competitions, seven in the league, so they were flying at one stage.”
What do you put the recent slump down to, having lost four out of their last five games?
“I think it’s a combination of things really. Initially it seemed that a lot of decisions and things appeared to be going against them and they weren’t really getting the rub of the green. “The Shrewsbury game at home, for example, they absolutely battered them but just couldn’t score. They just couldn’t see off their opponents and since then confidence has dipped. “They have had a couple of really bad performances like Luton away, which was dreadful, and then Burton last Saturday and Charlton on Tuesday were equally as bad.”
Who are the star men?
“George Dobson is probably their best player. He’s 20 years old and the captain.
“He’s a proper box-to-box midfieler who scored the goal to keep them up against Northampton last season, and since then he’s just gone from strength to strength.
“He can tackle, covers every blade of grass, can pass and gives everything every week. “He just needs to add goals. “He was at Arsenal and West Ham. He came to Walsall on loan from West Ham and then they got him on a permanent deal. When he’s on his game Morgan Ferrier is such a live wire up front.
“He is very erratic but a right handful. When he gets the ball to feet he runs at defences but his finishing has let him down in the last couple of weeks.
“There’s also Andy Cook up front who has got seven goals in 21 games this season, which isn’t bad. He has two in his last three and is a proper target man and a real handful but he relies on service. He came from Tranmere in the summer. He’d been at Barrow and scored 20 goals a season before going to Tranmere and scoring 28 last season, scoring the goal at Wembley that took them up. He and Ferrier were the pick of the non-league strikers and Walsall got them both and they started the season really well.”
Coventry fans could outnumber the home support on Saturday. What do you put that down to?
“Walsall’s average attendance is about 4,000. People often say you have to be a little bit mental to be a Walsall fan given that five miles down the road is The Hawthorns, 11 miles away Villa Park, ten miles away Wolves, not to mention Blues, so they are slap, bang in the middle of an area with massive clubs.
“So they have got their hardcore of fans but it’s rare for them to be outnumbered, if that is the case at the weekend.”