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Opposition Profile: Walsall

20 June 2017

A new feature where we take a closer look at who Rovers will face in League One next season.

Walsall

Founded: 1888
Nickname: The Saddlers

The club was formed following the merger of Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town to become Walsall Town Swifts in 1888, but they failed to gain a place in the inaugural Football League of that year.

But having successfully competed in the Football Alliance, they were to join the newly-formed Football League Second Division in 1892. Their first league match saw them face Darwen, but they went down 2-1 to the Lancashire side.

However having failed to impress in their first three seasons, the Saddlers failed to get re-elected to the league in 1895, but having dropped "Town Swifts" from their name to just become Walsall, they returned to the second division just a year later, before missing out on promotion by just four points in 1899.

That would prove to be a highlight as they would go on to spend some 20 years outside the Football League structure until the formation of the Third Division North in 1921.

Following the 1958 reorganisation of the league, Walsall then became founder members of the Fourth Division, and although they narrowly missed out on promotion that season, they followed it up with back-to-back league successes to reach the second division for the first time since the early 1900s.

Walsall would drop back to Division Three in 1962-63 and remained there until they suffered relegation to Division Four in 1978-79.

They would continue to move between the bottom two divisions, but a switch to the Bescot Stadium in 1990 brought about an upturn in fortunes, with promotion back to the second-tier of English football in 1998-99.

And although they were relegated the following campaign, they returned in fine style thanks to a 3-2 play-off final victory over Reading at the Millennium Stadium, but once again their stay in the Championship proved to be short-lived.

Once more the Saddlers would flit between League One and Two, but away from the league they embarked on a wonderful run to the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final in 2015. Playing at Wembley for the very first time, over 29,000 Walsall fans descended on the capital, but despite a 2-0 loss to Bristol City, it was a day the fans would never forget.

The Manager:

Jon Whitney was appointed Walsall manager on a three-year deal in June 2016 after a fruitful spell as caretaker following the departure of Sean O’Driscoll.

Nantwich-born, Whitney enjoyed a successful career as the defender, making almost 200 Football League appearances for Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic, Lincoln City and Hull City, but he was forced to retire due to injury in 2001, aged 30.

He first joined the Saddlers in 2003 as a physiotherapist and has since held various  coaching, fitness and sports science roles.

Whitney became part of former manager Dean Smith’s coaching team as his assistant in January 2011 and took temporary control of first-team affairs following O’Driscoll’s exit in March 2016.

After guiding Walsall to a third-placed finish in League One in 2015/16, he was handed the reins on a permanent basis that summer.

The Ground:

The Saddlers play their home games at the Bescot Stadium, which was officially opened on 18th August 1990 by Sir Stanley Matthews ahead of a friendly match against near-neighbours Aston Villa.

Now known as the Banks's Stadium, it is the fifth ground that Walsall have played at during their 129-year history.

Following their formation in 1888, they plied their trade at The Chickery, but having achieved Football League status in 1892, complaints from local residents forced a move the following year.

With their anticipated ground on West Bromwich Road not ready, Walsall played their first two home games of the 1893/94 season at the Wood Green Oval but lost on both occasions.

The Saddlers spent three years at West Bromwich Road before moving to Fellows Park in 1896, but having been unable to pay their rent they temporarily returned to their former ground for the 1900-01 season.

Following a leasing agreement, Walsall were back at Fellows Park in 1901 and that would be their home until the summer of 1990 before they made the short move to the Bescot.

The Bank's Stadium currently has a capacity of 11,300. The record attendance to date is 11,409 for the Saddlers' match against Rotherham United on 9th May 2004.

Last Season:

After narrowly missing out on promotion in 2015-16 following their play-off defeat to Barnsley, they failed to hit the same heights last season.

The campaign started brightly enough with an opening day victory over AFC Wimbledon, but victories were hard to come by with just two further wins in the opening two months.

Their fortunes improved in October with three wins and two draws, but another lean spell followed ensuring they went into the new year in the bottom half of the table.

A sixth home win in a row saw Walsall move up to eighth by mid-March, but a disappointing end to the season saw them collect just one further victory, finishing in 14th.

Last Meeting:

Rovers last faced the Saddlers in the League Cup in November 2002 with the Lancashire side progressing courtesy of a 5-4 penalty shootout after the match at Ewood Park ended in a 2-2 draw.

It was the 1999-00 season when the two sides last faced each other in the league.

Goals from Ashley Ward and Lee Carsley saw Rovers win 2-0 at Ewood Park in September 1999, before the return fixture ended all square at the Bescot Stadium as Rovers saw Carsley's first half penalty cancelled out by a strike from Michael Ricketts five minutes from time.

Don't forget, there's just one more day to go until the 2017-18 EFL fixtures are released – at 9am on Wednesday morning.


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