By Harley ThorneOver the next few weeks we will be taking a look at some of the sides that we will be taking on next season in SkyBet League One, today it's the turn of Walsall.
Name: Walsall FC
Nickname(s): The Saddlers
Founded: 1888 (as Walsall Town Swifts)
Stadium: The Bescot Stadium.
Distance: 93 miles from Bristol.
Last season: 3rd in League One.
Promoted to League One in 2007 alongside Rovers, Walsall have played their last 9 seasons in the third tier of English football.
In the 2011-2012 season, they avoided relegation to League Two by just one point, and the following season led to a similarly nervy ending – as The Saddlers narrowly avoided relegation on the penultimate day of the season.
Last season, however, was a much different experience for them. The Saddlers suffered final day heartbreak at the top end of the table. In need of a three-goal swing to make up their goal difference deficit – and still requiring Burton Albion to lose their match – they beat Port Vale by five goals to nil. It wasn’t enough however, as Burton played out a goalless draw with Doncaster Rovers to secure their place in the Championship. Their disappointment to miss out on the automatic promotion places in such a cruel way no doubt played a part in their swift exit from the play-offs, as they lost in the semi-final to eventual winners Barnsley.
The eventful season on the pitch was matched off of it, as they lost their long-term manager Dean Smith to Brentford in November. In fact, Smith was the fourth longest-serving manager in English football’s top four divisions prior to his move. This unexpected managerial change saw former Bristol Rovers manager John Ward take temporary charge of The Saddlers as they searched for a permanent replacement.
They appointed former Bristol City manager Sean O’Driscoll as their full-time replacement, and though he won his first three matches in charge - it did not quite go to plan. A six-game winless run in February led to his dismissal after just 16 games.
Walsall performance coach Jon Whitney took control of first-team affairs at the club, and returned the team to form. Although they missed out on automatic promotion so cruelly, he was rewarded for his efforts with a three-year contract in June – and will now lead the side next season in their inevitable promotion push.
You don’t need to be a performance coach, however, to spot the danger-man in the Walsall team.
Tom Bradshaw, previously of Shrewsbury Town, scored 17 league goals in each of his previous two seasons with the club. At only 23 years of age, the talented Welshman will be hot property during the summer transfer window. If Walsall can keep hold of him, they’ll be hoping he can hit the magic 20 this season in their bid for automatic promotion. His impressive form over the year was rewarded with a first senior Wales cap against Ukraine, playing the final 17 minutes in a 1-0 friendly loss, and only a calf injury kept him out of Wales manager Chris Coleman’s Euro 2016 squad.
Rovers have failed to beat Walsall in our previous four encounters with The Saddlers. Our most recent game saw an eventually relegated Rovers side fall to a humiliating 6-1 defeat at The Bescot Stadium.
On a more positive note, our last win was a 5-0 demolition back in March 2009 – two Darryl Duffy and Aaron Lescott goals, along with a Craig Disley tap-in, sending the Gasheads home happy. The Walsall side that day featured now high-flying Premier League striker Troy Deeney – who was unable to score past Rovers’ Steve Phillips and his back four of Ryan Green, Byron Anthony, Steve Elliott and Aaron Lescott.
Walsall away is one of the shortest journeys Gasheads will make next season to support their team, only 93 miles from Bristol, so there is sure to be a strong following from our supporters when we do eventually meet them this season. And if previous results are anything to go by, it’s sure to be a cracker!
Want to be part of the action? Then purchasing your 2016/17 Season Ticket couldn’t be easier
Personal callers are welcome at Pirate Leisure at The Memorial Stadium or at The Supporters Club Shop 199 Two Mile Hill Road Kingswood, BS15 1AZ.
Alternatively Season Tickets can also be purchased over the phone by calling Pirate Leisure on 0117 909 6648 - option 1 (during office hours) or ‘199’ on 0117 961 1772 (during office hours) or online at www.brfctickets.com
Ambulant Disabled, wheelchair users and carers should contact Clare McDonagh directly, either in person or over the phone, on 0117 952 4001.