Ricoh can reinvigorate Saddlers
Mike Holden believes that a glamour trip to their high-profile local rivals Coventry City on Saturday can spur Walsall towards a victory that their recent performances have deserved...
What started out as such a promising season for Walsall has steadily turned sour but an exciting local derby at an inspiring new venue might be just the ticket to get them firing again. Take some of the 3/1 about the Saddlers beating Coventry at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
Dean Smith's men are now winless in 14, a statistic that ought to surprise anyone who witnessed their free-spirited football in the opening two months of the campaign, but standards have improved of late - particularly on the road - enough to suggest that a moment of maximum reward could be on the way.
If Walsall can match their efforts in recent draws at in-form Bury, sharp-shooting Crawley and high-flying Tranmere, then there's adequate reason to believe that Coventry will be a little more forthcoming when it comes to handing over the points.
The Sky Blues have improved under new boss Mark Robins but most of their progress has been on the road and they remain unreliable at the Ricoh with only two wins in ten attempts, seven of which have been under the tuition of the former Rotherham and Barnsley boss, only one of them with a clean sheet.
As if a plush 32,000-seater venue fit for the Premier League doesn't present Coventry with enough problems from a psychological persepctive at this level, reports of a potential winding-up order made the news this week as stadium operators ACL issued a £1.1m rent demand.
The club is nearly a year in arrears after expressing its wish to renegotiate terms of the agreement and while the story might be little more than a storm in a teacup at this stage, it can only serve to undermine the work Robins is doing to create an ambience of long-term stability.
The Sky Blues do at least have a money-spinning FA Cup third round tie with Tottenham at White Hart Lane to look forward to, while they also find themselves two steps away from Wembley in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy after beating Sheffield United on penalties in midweek, but those wider positives could be viewed as negatives in terms of appetite for this game.
It's a much bigger occasion for Walsall and they are bound to be backed by a sizeable following as they make the 27-mile trip down the M6. With their involvement in the knockout competitions curtailed, this could be a pivotal moment in their season - the catalyst that pushes them into rediscovering the excellent standards from August and September.
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