Walsall Preview – SkyBet League One

The stage is set for the M6 derby on Tuesday night as Coventry City welcome Walsall to the Ricoh Arena. With the two sides not being traditional rivals, the past few meetings haven’t meant too much. However, this fixture has an added spice to it this time around as both clubs look to take a march in their respective promotion bids.

Back in the month of August, Tony Mowbray’s men suffered a 2-1 defeat at The Bescot Stadium. Further insult was added to injury that day as James Maddison suffered a serious injury, but he and The Sky Blues are now prepared to seek revenge on home soil. It is certainly set to be a tightly fought affair which should provide entertainment.

League Form

The Sky Blues will be in confident mood heading into this clash after they demolished Crewe Alexandra 5-0 in their last outing. As a result, Coventry now boast the best goal difference in the division with +22 after scoring 46 and conceding only 24 from their opening 25 games. Tony Mowbray’s men also sit 4th in the division and firmly in the race for promotion.

In their last five League One encounters they have earned 2 victories, 2 draws and 1 loss. One thing that will give the Coventry faithful added hope is their record on home soil. The Sky Blues are now the only team in the football league yet to be defeated on their own patch, but they’ll have to work hard to prolong that run.

 

The Ricoh Arena has been a fortress this season.

Walsall have enjoyed a sensational first half of the season and they currently sit a place above Coventry in 3rd. The achievement to date alerted clubs to manager Dean Smith and he opted to switch to Brentford last month. With Sean O’Driscoll now in charge of The Saddlers, they’ll be looking to maintain their form in the second half of the campaign.

In their last five league matches they have won 4 and lost 1, that defeat coming in the form of a 3-0 defeat at home to Rochdale. Since then, supporters have been lifted once again though as their side progressed into the fourth round of the FA cup after edging past Brentford and their former manager Smith. Clean sheets have been their speciality or later, and they’ll be difficult to break down.

Team News

Coventry City still have issues in the defensive areas as Reda Johnson, Jordan Willis and Aaron Martin all remain sidelined. However, the recent signing of Peter Ramage provides added cover and experience at the back and the former Barnsley man could go straight into the starting eleven on Tuesday.

Another duo that have been snapped up by Mowbray are midfielders Andy Rose and Stephen Hunt. Both players will find it challenging to force their way into the side, but they will be determined to have a positive impact should they feature in this game. Joe Cole is also expected to play a part in the fixture after cutting his ties with Aston Villa to make his stay at the Ricoh permanent.

The Saddlers are still without summer signing Isiah Osbourne as his recovery from a knee injury picked up in pre-season continues. Apart from him, Sean O’Driscoll has a fully fit squad to select from as his team set their sights on top spot in League One.

Top scorer Tom Bradshaw returned to the starting lineup on Saturday after a troubled December consisting of groin and hamstring strains. He is now fully fit and he’ll be determined to add to his 12 goals scored in all competitions. Rico Henry is also back in contention after returning from an ankle injury in Walsall’s FA cup triumph.

Three To Watch:

Tom Bradshaw

Despite being born in Shrewsbury, Bradshaw moved to Wales as a youngster and he was snapped up by Aberystwyth Town of the Welsh Premier League. After progressing through their youth ranks, he went on to make a handful of appearances before returning home to sign for Shrewsbury Town in the summer of 2009.

After joining the then League Two outfit, he remained at the club for five seasons and was part of their promotion winning side in 2010-11. His form, however, was mixed and he struggled to cement his place in the team. Following The Shrews’ relegation to League Two in 2014, he left the club with 89 appearances and 17 goals to his name.

It was Walsall who snapped up the striker for an undisclosed fee and he has soon established himself as a favourite at The Bescot. He enjoyed a prolific 2014-15 campaign and he has made a positive start to this season too, scoring 9 goals in SkyBet League One thus far. Despite being linked with a move away from the club, he remains a Walsall player and he’ll be focussed on causing Coventry problems on Tuesday.

Romaine Sawyers

Romaine Sawyers started his footballing journey at West Bromwich Albion as he signed for their academy in 2004 aged 13. He went on to impress the staff at The Baggies and he was handed a professional contract in 2009. Unfortunately though, he picked up a knee injury soon after which ruled him out for the entire 2009-10 season.

After recovering from knee problem, the midfielder was loaned out to Port Vale, Shrewsbury Town and Walsall before leaving The Hawthorns following his release. Dean Smith swiftly after and made Sawyers a permanent Walsall player and his career has kicked on since. Known for his technical ability, the playmaker is now a top League One player.

The Saint Kitts and Nevis international has now made over a century of appearances for The Saddlers and his reputation is growing stronger and stronger. Still only 24 years of age, he has plenty of time to progress his career and he will be hopeful that he can achieve promotion to the Championship with Walsall.

Rico Henry

The left wing-back has been a real standout in Walsall’s tremendous first half of the season, and his performances have certainly caught the eye of supporters. Rising through the ranks at The Bescot, he was handed a professional deal in the summer of 2014 after joining the club as an 11-year old.

Since being rewarded with a first team squad number, his career has taken off and he is now a key member of O’Driscoll’s squad. With unerring ability on the ball coupled with blistering pace, he has the ability to torment any form of opposition on his day.

He has made 21 appearances for Walsall so far and he found the net on 2 occasions. Coventry will have a tough task in thwarting the defender in the upcoming fixture, and with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur tracking his progress, he will be eager to impress.

From The Home Camp – Tony Mowbray:

“We’ll need to be at our best on Tuesday because we’re facing a tough game against a really good side who have shown better consistency than us in winning football matches.”

“Although we haven’t been losing too often we’ve drawn a few too many recently and we need to be at it that night otherwise we’ll get punished.”

“On the other hand, to beat them would obviously be a huge fillip for us and we’ve got a proud home record we want to preserve so I’ve no doubt the players will know exactly what they need to do.”

View From The Opposition – Sean O’Driscoll

“I think the team has done tremendously well to be where they are but it’s going to be difficult to maintain the level of performance week-in, week-out. There are a few tired legs and to go again against a high scoring Coventry is a big ask.

“But if we want to be successful, they are the challenges that have to be overcome.”

My Thoughts

There’s no getting away from the fact that these next two fixtures are MASSIVE for The Sky Blues. Win both and we are on course for promotion, lose them and our road to the top two spots takes a diversion. It’s clear that both games will provide us with real tests, but we can only take it a game at a time and full focus must be on Walsall first.

When we played them away earlier in the season, I’m sure the players will agree that we weren’t at our best. I’m not taking anything away from Walsall, they were exceptional in possession and they are one of the best sides that we’ve played this season. The league table doesn’t lie, currently they have more points than us, it’s not coincidence.

However, I believe that our squad is stronger now than it was back in August. It’s not often you say that at this time of year as a Coventry supporter. With that in mind, if we perform to our maximum levels then we should be capable of getting at least a point from this one. We’ll be in confident mood and this needs to be portrayed down on the pitch, we must take the game to them.

After Adam Armstrong netted a hat-trick away at Crewe, he’ll be relishing the chance to add to his tally as will Jacob Murphy. Providing we can keep the likes of Tom Bradshaw quiet, I would back us to score at least one goal and get a result. Whether that will be a win is yet to be seen.

Another bumper attendance of over 15,000 is expected and that could also have a huge influence on the game. If we can make it as intimidating as possible for those Walsall players, they may struggle to be quite as brilliant as they have been. Their last league outing shows the frailties they have at the back, and if we spur the players to drive at them, it could be a good night.

It will be an interesting and entertaining game of football as two of the best footballing outfits in the division face each other. For me, on what I’ve seen this term I simply can’t pick a winner. With that being the reason, I’m playing it safe in going for a draw in this one. That wouldn’t be the end of the world.

My Score Prediction:

Coventry City 1-1 Walsall

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Alex Hewlett says:

    Excited about this one already. If we can start strong and get an early goal, I can’t see them coming back. If they score first, we’ll really struggle to breakdown a strong defensive unit twice. I’m going for an optimistic 2-0. Armstrong and Murphy.

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