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Walsall are the visitors on the 19th Feb.  The two sides met in August.  This was Rovers first away game of the season, at the Bescot Stadium.  The result was a 3-1 win for Rovers – Matty Stevens scoring twice (1 pen) and Jamille Matt once, all goals in the 1st half.  Walsall snatched a 90th minute consolation.

The Saddlers finished last season in 19th place in the league.  But this season has recently taken a significant downturn.  Since the start of the year Walsall had played 8 games and lost 7 of them.  This had left them in 21st place, just 4 points above the relegation places.  A 1-0 away loss at bottom club Scunthorpe on 8th Feb was too much for the club’s board and manager, Matt Taylor, was fired the next day.  So it came as a surprise when Walsall beat Tranmere 1-0 in their last outing – an 85th minute penalty and a Tranmere red card adding late sparkle to an apparently lacklustre game.  This has given Walsall some breathing space – moving them up to 17th in the table, 6 points above the relegation places.

Walsall aren’t usually badly beaten by opposition teams when they lose (they tend to go down by the odd goal and they haven’t yet been defeated by more than 2 goals).  They have scored 31 and conceded 39 in their 30 games.  Their home and away form is pretty even but they have lost their last 5 matches away from home.  More than a third of Walsall’s conceded goals have happened in the last 15 minutes of games.

Walsall have made a couple of additions to their squad in January.  23 year old striker Devante Rodney was signed from Port Vale for an undisclosed fee but his debut has been delayed due to a heel injury.

Reece Devine, a left sided defender arrived on loan from Manchester United.  Devine’s season-long loan to St Johnstone was cut short last month because Devine wasn’t getting enough game time at the Scottish club.  Devine started his spell at Walsall in the 1-0 away defeat at Bristol Rovers (where Aaron Collins scored the 90th minute winner).

But the Saddlers have been weakened by the moves of Otis Khan to Leyton Orient and the recall of loanee Kieran Phillips by Huddersfield (now out on loan at Exeter).  They also suffered a bitter blow with injury to midfielder, Rory Holden.

Walsall Chairman, Leigh Pomlett, announced in December that he expected to be bringing in a couple of players in January, but that he didn’t want to pay a transfer fee for them.

Devante Rodney (Credit: Walsall FC)

Striker Devante Rodney was signed from Port Vale in the January transfer window but has yet to make his debut.

George Miller (number 11) is having a good season for the Saddlers.  25 year old Miller is on loan from Barnsley.  He has spent more time on loan than he has with his parent clubs over the years (these being Bury, Middlesborough & Barnsley).  In terms of goalscoring, this is his most successful season as a footballer, having scored 8 times for the Saddlers far this season (their leading scorer).

Miller tends to play up front on his own when Walsall are away from home, supported by a midfield 3 of either Phillips (number 15), Labadie (number 4), Wilkinson (number 9) or Kiernan (number 7).  Phillips, Wilkinson & Kiernan have each scored 4 times this season.  Walsall seemed to invariably play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but, following the sacking of their manager, adopted a 4-4-2 last time out.

Walsall have scored 31 and conceded 39 in their 30 games.  They are slightly better at home than away, but they have picked up away victories at Sutton, Port Vale & Oldham, as well as draws at Exeter, Leyton Orient and Bradford, so they will clearly will be no pushovers.

GEORGE MILLER WALSALL DURING SUTTON UNITED Editorial Stock Photo - Stock Image | Shutterstock

George Miller, on loan from Barnsley, has been Walsall’s main goal threat this season.

One player who may not receive the best welcome back is Walsall defender Manny Monthe.  Monthe played for FGR between 2016 and 2018 before moving to Tranmere and then to Walsall.  In December he was found guilty of homophobic abuse in the 9th minute of Tranmere’s game against Rovers in May last year.  The FA found that Monthe used ‘abusive and/or insulting language’ and he was banned for 7 matches and fined £1,200.

Not that the Cameroonian defender sounded very repentant.  He posted online “I am deeply saddened by the outcome of the FA hearing.  Whilst I respect the process that the FA undertakes in such matters, I categorically deny making any such comment.  The threshold for a proven case for the FA is ‘balance of probability’ and by its very nature this is much lower than a court of law which must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt.  I will serve my seven game ban and pay the fine as I look to put this matter behind me.”

SPORT COPYRIGHT MNA MEDIA TIM THURSFIELD 07/08/21 .TRANMERE ROVERS V WALSALL.Manny Monthe.

Ex FGR defender Manny Monthe has been in hot water recently.

Last season Walsall’s promising start soon turned into a dip.  This season seems to be following a similar pattern.  Last season’s dip coincided with some high-profile departures from the club in January and February 2021. Their 2 top players were sold for financial reasons – leading scorer Adebayo went to Luton and full back Zak Joules joined MK Dons. Then manager Darrell Clarke shocked the club by moving to manage Port Vale in February.

The Saddler’s manager up until a few days ago was Matthew Taylor (not to be confused with his namesake, the Exeter manager).  Taylor’s first managerial appointment lasted 8 months but 7 successive defeats and Walsall getting dangerously close to the relegation places meant he was sacked on 9th Feb.   

Walsall manager Matthew Taylor was fired last week.

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Other things you may want to know about Walsall;
  • Walsall are known as ‘The Saddlers’ which reflects this Black Country town’s reputation as a traditional centre for saddle manufacture.
  • Walsall were formed in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts – a swift still features in their club crest and the club’s mascot is called ‘Swifty’ (see left!).
  • Their local rivals are Wolves and West Brom. However, the Saddlers have had few meetings with either of these sides over the years – Shrewsbury and Port Vale (both about 30 miles away) have been more frequent derbies.
  • Walsall have spent a number of seasons in football’s second tier but have never reached the top flight. Walsall gained one of their promotions to the second tier in 1999 and they did so by pipping Manchester City to the division’s runners-up spot!
  • Jeff Bonser bought the club in 1992 (when it was minutes away from entering into receivership) and in 2019 ended his almost 28-year spell as owner and Chairman when he sold his 76% shareholding in the club to Leigh Pomlett. Businessman Pomlett is a lifelong Walsall fan