Marcus Braddock previews the final game of the Sky Bet League One season
This weekend brings us our last game of the 2018/19 season and happily we don't need a particular result to ensure safety having drawn with Coventry City on Sunday. The same can't be said for our opponents Walsall who are mired in a swamp of relegation and are in need of a win against us to stay up.
It's been a pretty torrid season for the Saddlers but it started quite well with Walsall only losing once in their first ten games and that was only on penalties. Results began to slide as autumn arrived, wins became sparse through September and October and the slide down the table began. Christmas brought the Saddlers nothing and since New Year they've only managed four wins and two draws which obviously wasn't enough to prevent a full scale slide into the dreaded relegation zone. Looking at individual wins and draws, it's plain to see that Walsall are more than able to get a result when the right conditions coalesce. Sadly for ex-manager Dean Keats, isolated wins weren't enough and in April they parted company with ex-Shrew Martin O'Connor taking the caretaker reins. In the time he has been in charge, O'Connor has managed a draw, two defeats and a very handy 3-0 win at home to Peterborough last Saturday.
Top Scorer (cup goals in brackets)
Andy Cook 13 (5)
Josh Gordon 7(2)
Morgan Ferrier 5(1)
George Dobson 6
Luke Leahy 5
Andy Cook 3
Four at home and four away.
Walsall away stats
The Saddlers have collected an average of 0.9 goals per away game this season and have conceded an average of 1.5. They've won 23% of their away games, lost 55% and on average score every 47 minutes in away games.
The second half is the weaker defensively for Walsall with 59% of their goals conceded spread over the second 45 minutes. They've scored more goals in the second half with ten in the second and nine in the first.
Defensively, their weakest period of the second half is the first fifteen minutes with eight conceded but the final fifteen minutes aren't too different with 7 conceded. Their best period of away games is the last fifteen minutes with five goals scored.
Referee - Sebastian Stockbridge from Tyne and Wear. Games this season: 35. Yellow cards: 106. Red cards: 3.
Assistants: Wayne Grunnill and Hristo Karaivanov.
Martin O'Connor has named Corey Blackett-Taylor, Morgan Ferrier and Matt Jarvis as doubtful. The players that beat Peterborough 3-0 last weekend are all available.
Ryan Sears wont be available after an Anterior cruciate ligament rupture left him needing surgery.
There is quite a bit of baggage that goes with a game like this. A high profile game for both clubs made more so by the desperation of Walsall's situation. Much of the talk has been about sending Walsall down but would that really be the case if we won?
Mathematically, Walsall could win by ten clear goals and still go down because they need a couple of other results to go their way. So with the greatest respect, they've put themselves into a situation that means they have to rely upon serendipity as well as a good performance. So in that respect they'll be architects of their own downfall.
Having said that, the chances are at least reasonable that Walsall could see the two results they need occur. As far as I can ascertain, Walsall need two of the following three results, should they win this weekend:
Bradford to beat Wimbledon at home.
Southend to lose or draw to Sunderland.
Plymouth to draw or lose to Scunthorpe.
Sunderland could do with a win to keep pressure on Portsmouth in third and keep themselves clear of Charlton who are fifth. A draw may be enough in the end for Wimbledon to stay up but I have a feeling they will get the away win they need, their recent away form has been a revelation. If those two results go as I anticipate, the Plymouth vs Scunthorpe result may become immaterial.
So if Sunderland and Wimbledon behave as anticipated, this weekends game at Montgomery Waters Meadow would be decisive, meaning that a win for Town would send Walsall into League Two. Given what I've read on social media, this may please one or two of our supporters.