Preview: Walsall

A scrappy away win against Colchester last week was our first three points on the road this season but feet are very much on the ground at the moment. Too often we have seen Coventry City sides seemingly on the verge of turning everything around before dropping silly points and losing confidence. Whilst we remain within spitting distance of the relegation zone, no-one is going to resting on their laurels just yet.

As the dreaded arrival of Wasps in Coventry approaches, concerns grow over the state of a Ricoh Arena pitch that already looks best suited to the farming of potatoes. Steven Pressley has this week announced that he will pursue a more direct playing-style based around getting the ball into Frank Nouble and Gary Madine as soon as possible. Whether that will address our poor overall record at the Ricoh Arena is anybody’s guess but I imagine that it won’t exactly be ‘tiki-taka’ from now until the end of the season.

Matthew Pennington adds some cover to the defence.
Matthew Pennington adds some cover to the defence.

In team news, Pressley has pretty much the same squad from last week to choose from. Aaron Phillips has picked up a knock in training and that has forced Pressley to move in the loan market. With Phillips out for the next few weeks expect Pennington to be thrown straight in for his debut for the club just two days after signing.

The selection issues ahead of this game surround Danny Swanson and Reda Johnson. Swanson, who impressed from the bench against Colchester, finally showed what he can bring to the table when played out wide. However, Ryan Haynes had a good game on the left side of midfield and Jim O’Brien on the right is the captain and may be undroppable at this moment in time due to the situation regarding the captaincy of the club. Swanson may indeed be a player best suited to making cameos from the bench and there isn’t too much wrong with keeping him hungry for a starting spot for the time being.

Reda Johnson was surprisingly deployed at left-back which gave the team some added height and helped cut out Colchester’s threat on the diagonal ball. Whether this was a deliberate tactic based on the threat of the opposition or a longer-term trend may become apparent around 3 o’clock on Saturday. Putting Reda Johnson back into the centre of defence though would allow Pressley to start with Danny Swanson and play Ryan Haynes from left-back in a more attacking line-up.

Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Martin, Johnson, Haynes; O’Brien, Barton, Fleck, Swanson; Nouble, Madine.

Last Time We Met

Aside from one chastening experience early on in Pressley’s reign, we have quite a good record against Walsall in recent years. Our last meeting at the Ricoh Arena was a 5-1 thrashing during the very peak of Mark Robins’s reign at the club.

Last year’s visit to the Bescot Stadium saw a narrow game decided by a scrappy Frank Moussa goal. It was part of the club’s first and only three-game league winning streak since relegation to the third-tier.

The most recent meeting was another close affair with goals from Callum Wilson and Nathan Delfouneso securing a vital league win for a dangerously off-the-boil Coventry City side. The three points on a cold Tuesday night at Sixfields went a long way to securing survival during yet another excruciating end to the season at Coventry City.

How Are They Doing?

Having lost their captain and top goal-scorer from last season, many, myself included, were wondering whether Walsall were finally set to punch their weight this season and battle against the drop. After a rocky start, Dean Smith has shown in recent weeks just why have Walsall continually defied expectations during his reign. The Saddlers are currently unbeaten in the league in their past five games, dropping just two points from the past 15 available.

A blogger with more subtlety wouldn't even have brought it up.
A blogger with more subtlety wouldn’t even have brought it up.

Key to that run of form has been the loan signing of Leicester City midfielder Michael Cain, whose parents presumably knew exactly what they were doing when naming him. The tall midfielder barely had any kind of a reputation in the Football League having played two games on loan at Mansfield prior to this season. Cain though has been something of a revelation in providing Walsall with a dynamic mixture of physicality and creativity to the midfield area, someone to watch out for.

Walsall’s defence has been in miserly form in recent weeks and goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell, previously a no-name reserve at Sheffield Wednesday, has only been beaten once in the past five games which included a heroic display last weekend at Fleetwood. Ahead of him is Paul Downing who is a talented centre-back who at times can be guilty of lapses in concentration. Left-back Andy Taylor continues to be a classy presence and his re-signing of his contract this summer may prove vital for Walsall’s hopes this season.

Romaine Sawyers is one to really keep an eye on, a supremely talented player who likes to float around behind the striker, he can produce moments of magic out of nothing. A player who can sometimes be blamed for appearing invisible in games and lacking work-ethic, he is though a player to be ignored at our own peril.

The wide players to watch out for are James Baxendale and Jordan Cook. Baxendale, a right-sided wide-man, has been consistently decent at the Bescot but has rarely looked like making a real name for himself. Jordan Cook returned to Walsall this summer after a dreadful, ten games in two years spell at Charlton. Cook has pace but is perhaps still getting up to speed in playing regular first-team football once again.

Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) O’Donnell; A Chambers, Purkiss, Downing, Taylor; J Chambers, Cain; Baxendale, Sawyers, Cook; Grimes.


Walsall are in great form at the moment and they have a remarkable defensive record in recent weeks. They look set up perfectly to soak up a bit of pressure early on before hurting us on the counter as the game wears on and our frustrations increase. Whilst our own form isn’t anything to write home about at the minute, if there is any time of the season where Coventry City always seems to do well, it is win games at this time of the year.

This game is the second in a run of four that could see move away from the drop zone and comfortably into the bosom of mid-table. We need to make this set of fixtures count and it seems that the players and manager are well are of this. I am predicting a 2-1 win for the Sky Blues.

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