Thursday, 10 April 2014
The Inside Line: Walsall (12/04/2014)
One point from two games against promotion-chasing sides has caused a few fans to once again look over their shoulder into the mire of the bottom four, but the fight, spirit and closeness of those matches ought to be enough to soothe any concerns anyone has that City might once again be about to drop into the relegation dogfight.
A trip to Walsall on Saturday looks a tricky proposition on paper, with Dean Smith’s side (ably supported by one-time City assistant manager, Richard O’Kelly) playing some good football and well established in the top half of the table. However, results of late have been inconsistent and when Stu Radnedge spoke to Walsall fan site ‘Bescot Banter’ and his words offer some considerable comfort to the travelling fans…
We’re now at the business end of the season and, with 15 points available, 6th place (currently occupied by Peterborough) is theoretically reachable for Walsall, albeit eight points away. Is this achievable or was your season realistically over after Port Vale ended your five-match unbeaten run last Saturday?
In many ways it has been over for a while, even if not mathematically. The emphasis has been on Peterborough United and the need to catch them and whilst we have edged closer on occasions, the recent ten-game winless run, coupled with the failure to capitalise on their recent loss to Wolves, has put us in a difficult position. Realistically Sheffield United are in a better position to capitalise given their recent run of form.
Remarkably given their current position, Walsall have failed to win more than two league games in a row this season. Reflecting on the season, how has it been for Dean Smith and the fans at Banks's Stadium?
A season of ups and downs for the Saddlers, from the League victory over bitter rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in September to the terrible run of form we're currently in, which includes two wins in the last three but just three in the last fourteen.
Whilst mid-table safety was many people’s target, supporters couldn't help but get swept up in the chase for the play-offs and are now understandably deflated at the recent flop that has seen those chances come to an end.
Last year you finished 9th, this year you’ll probably end up in roughly the same position. Would it be fair to describe Walsall as an 'almost' club? What is needed to convert the team into a promotion chasing side?
I think Walsall could be seen as an 'almost' club given the recent season ending positions, however if you look back a little further, the side has come quite a long way in a short space of time. From relegation battles to play-off chases, Dean Smith along with first-team coach Richard O'Kelly, Physio Jon Whitney and 'keeper coach Neil Cutler have set the club on a new path that, given the correct amount of financial backing from the board, could see the ambition of Championship football achieved in the near future.
The summer is always an interesting time for teams as players come and go from squads. Can you see your team having much action in the transfer/loan markets? Has the gaffer signalled any areas that he wishes to strengthen?
Much of the summer’s transfer activity will also depend on how many players Smith can tie down to new deals, there are several first-team players out-of-contract in the summer, including club captain Andy Butler, left-back Andy Taylor, Ben Purkiss and James Chambers.
If Smith can keep the core of the squad together then all that will be needed is a proven striker. The style of football we play creates many goal scoring opportunities, yet they often go to waste.
If not, then we can expect yet another busy summer at the Banks's Stadium, manager Dean Smith hasn't expressed a position on any new arrivals as of writing, however it is pretty clear to all that along with a goal scorer, the team is in need of defensive options, often players are playing through fatigue and errors are almost going unpunished as there are few replacements at hand.
What do you perceive to be Bristol City's strengths and weaknesses ahead of Saturday's match?
Form is a big plus for the side, and the desire to extend the gap over the relegation places could prove a big factor in Saturday's game. It seems like manager Steve Cotterill has turned a corner as of late, 2014 started with a terrible January, a poor February and a fantastic March, it will be interesting to see how the side go next season, especially if he can secure more loan signings like those currently at the club.
And what about Walsall's strengths and weaknesses?
Without doubt our strength is the style of play we have adopted, which the fans have dubbed it 'sexy football', this has been a clear boost to the side, gone are the days of 'hoofball', in its place is a fluid style which has seen the side often dominate the midfield, sadly, as previously mentioned, were often not able to capitalize.
With those answers in mind, who do you think will come out on top?
Sadly, Walsall seem incapable of putting together any kind of form as of late, and with top-scorer Craig Westcarr being suspended and the Robins only being defeated once in their last eight league games, I'd have to begrudgingly go with Bristol City, especially since the Saddlers have lost the last three meetings between the two sides.
Thank you very much to Stu and to Bescot Banter, who you can follow here on Twitter if you wish.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get that win and edge towards a top-half finish, as manager Steve Cotterill has indicated is the target, meaning a few ‘boring’ games between now and the end of the season?!
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