Tensions rise for Walsall FC ahead of Coventry City trip

At one point last summer, it looked as if tonight’s game would be played at the Banks’s.

Right, James Chambers of Walsall FC
James Chambers, right,

Walsall’s ground was one of several locations mooted as a possible landing place for newly nomadic Coventry, as they searched for a home away from the Ricoh. There were even rumours of talks between the two clubs.

Ultimately, the Sky Blues ended up at Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium and that’s where the Saddlers head for tonight’s League One clash.

This isn’t the place to delve into the hows and whys of Coventry’s current plight, a classic modern football tale of moneymen putting their own self-interests ahead of a club’s well-being and where – as always – the biggest losers are the fans.

Not that the Saddlers can expect to see many of them inside the ground tonight. The decision to move the club 40 miles out of town proved almost universally unpopular and supporters have had in place an admirable – and more importantly successful – boycott of their “home” games this term.

While they still take thousands away, the turnout at Sixfields rarely gets above 1,500, with die-hards choosing to stand on a hill outside the ground where they can see a fraction of the pitch.

Such is the atmosphere the Saddlers will find tonight in a rearranged fixture. Even a veteran such as James Chambers is not entirely sure what to expect.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” he said.

“But whatever the situation, we have to make sure we perform.

“We will take a few fans there as it’s not too far and a good travelling support will help. Hopefully we reward them with a good performance and three points.”

At the moment, you suspect Saddlers boss Dean Smith would happily take the points however they arrive, in order to get their faltering play-off challenge back on track.

When he watched his side thump Notts County 5-1 in January, Smith would surely not have foreseen the slump which has seen them take just two points from the next five games. It’s a run which has dropped them out of the top six but not, yet, out of contention.

Coventry were on their own slide long before the Saddlers’ season took a downward turn. When Franck Moussa’s goal earned a 1-0 win at the Banks’s in October, Steven Pressley’s side looked a decent bet for the play-offs despite a 10-point deduction. Now one win in eight has them glancing over their shoulders at relegation.

Chambers believes Walsall must take the positives from Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Preston, as they bid to increase the hosts’ nerves.

“We didn’t lose any ground on Saturday but in the same way we didn’t claw any back,” he said. “Every game we play we need to pick up points, either to stay in the race or to claw back ground.

“Staying confident is key. Obviously we have to put it out there on the pitch.”

Chambers insists that confidence hasn’t been affected, adding: “We didn’t get carried away when we were in the play-off places and we don’t feel too bad when we are not. We just know we have work to do.”

Coventry welcomed top scorer Callum Wilson back from injury as they drew 0-0 with Shrewsbury on Sunday, while Pressley hopes to have on-loan Villa hitman Nathan Delfouneso available again after a thigh injury. Andy Taylor could return for Walsall at left-back depending on his knee injury.