Grow or go - the Walsall mantra to success. And it has proved its worth this season as the Saddlers mount their late assault on the play-offs.
Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Carlisle – thanks to Will Grigg’s treble – left them just six points adrift of the play-offs ahead of tomorrow’s grudge derby with Shrewsbury.
The Saddlers’ unexpected play-off challenge has been born from nine wins in their last 13 games – after they ended a 16-match winless run just before Christmas.
During that barren spell the Shrews escaped with a 1-0 win in October after Walsall dominated the first half and wasted countless chances.
Now, Graham Turner’s Shrewsbury are still threatened by the drop while the Saddlers hold genuine, if outside, promotion hopes.
It adds weight to the Saddlers’ dressing room motto which has seen them rapidly scale League One since the teams last met.
“We’ve got a saying that people who want to grow will stay and the ones who don’t will go. It’s grow or go,” said boss Dean Smith.
“They all have a hunger for learning. We spoke about it the other day when we did the debrief of the Brentford game as we felt we could have done better in the first half.
“The one connection we’ve got as players and staff is we want to get better – myself included.
“I got Manager of the Month for January and we’re unbeaten in February in what was a tough fixture list, but we have to concentrate on what we’re doing and make sure we’re ready for each game.”
Shrewsbury arrive on 40 points – five points above the drop zone – after a last-minute 2-1 defeat to leaders Doncaster on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Saddlers are unbeaten in five games and have taken 16 points from the last 18 at home.
But Smith is taking nothing for granted. “We’re in good form, they still need points to make sure of survival and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
“Every game is tough in this league and we’ll give them the respect they deserve.
“They played with 10 men against Doncaster and nearly snatched a draw so it shows they are doing something right.”
Last October’s derby was settled by Paul Parry’s first-half winner after Adam Chambers, George Bowerman and Florent Cuvelier had all missed chances.
Shrews goalkeeper Chris Weale thwarted the Saddlers and skipper Andy Butler insisted defeat is still fresh in the mind.
He said: “We played well and just didn’t score.
“Their keeper got man of the match and we’re looking to get back three points.”
Right-backs Richard Taundry and Ben Purkiss were expected to return to training today but only Purkiss could be considered for selection with the Saddlers likely to be unchanged.