A foot in both camps for Dean Smith

The bigger they are, the harder they fall - and Dean Smith knows the weight of expectation at Sheffield Wednesday.

SOCCER Grimsby v Sheff Wed

The bigger they are, the harder they fall - and Dean Smith knows the weight of expectation at Sheffield Wednesday.

Walsall's head of youth has experienced the pressures of Hillsborough and hopes the Saddlers turn the tables on his old club tonight.

Smith spent 18 months at Wednesday as they dropped out of the Championship in 2003 - a far cry from their Premier League glory days of the 1990's.

Now they are in crisis, crippled by £27million worth of debt, and the Owls only survived a winding-up order last week after being granted an extra month to pay off a £1.4million tax bill.

Express & Star columnist Ron Atkinson could also be on the verge of a return to Yorkshire, where he managed between 1989 to 1991 and 1997 to 1998, as he has asked to be involved if Spencer Fearn and Colin Hill's takeover succeeds.

It's a world away from the tight ship run at Walsall, a ship which has been justifiably under fire both on and off the pitch.

But contrasting fortunes in League One have left the teams at opposite ends of the table.

Wednesday are fifth after a 4-1 win at MK Dons on Saturday while the Saddlers are bottom, despite their vital 2-1 comeback win against Carlisle.

A win for the Saddlers tonight could see them move off the bottom and close the gap to safety to just two points.

Smith, who made 62 appearances for the Owls between 2003 and 2004, reckons Walsall can spring a shock - but must be fearless.

He said: "Wednesday are a big club but they are still a League One team with League One players.

"They are on the back of a good but I don't think we've got anything to fear.

"Not many people will fancy us getting a result but I don't see why we should be worried. The players should want to go and play at Hillsborough in front of 20,000 fans.

"Their fans are expectant because we are bottom and they have just won 4-1. But if we can quieten them down and frustrate them then that's a big thing.

"They are expectant fans because they've seen them at a higher level."

Smith played in the second half of the Owls' 2002-03 relegation season and knows how hard the Wednesday faithful are to please.

And the 39-year-old insists the fans will be as demanding as ever with manager Alan Irvine bidding to win promotion at the first attempt after relegation last term.

He said: "When I was there I enjoyed it. I had been used to playing League Two with Leyton Orient so to go and play in the Championship was fantastic.

"I didn't feel the pressure as much as the others, but when we were in League One the pressure and expectancy of the fans was evident and it will be evident this season.

"I signed when we were struggling in the Championship and it was difficult but we made a fight of it. We even played Walsall on the last day of the season.

"We had been relegated a couple of games before, but we beat Burnley 7-2 and Walsall 2-1 to finish."

Wednesday's form - they have won their last four in all competitions - has taken the pressure off the players during another turbulent period in the club's history.

But Smith does not expect their heads to be turned when they face-off against the Saddlers.

He said: "I don't think it will affect the players. It'll impact on the management in terms of budget and what they are allowed to sign though.

"It's been going on for a few years, since they got relegated from the Premier League, and they've never really overcome it.

"I admire them because they haven't gone into administration. If they do that they are a more sellable asset but they are honouring their payments.

"I enjoyed playing there, they are a good club with a good tradition."

Smith has been helping the first-team defenders out as they bid to improve their record of just two clean sheets this season.

While he admits to being "in between" his day job of controlling the youth team and pitching in with the seniors, Smith is always open to help manager Chris Hutchings and assistant Martin O'Connor.

He said: "If the gaffer and Skip need to bounce anything off me I am there for them but they are more than capable of doing it - and full credit to them after the last two results.

"There was a bit of doom and gloom around the place but after the weekend we've taken a lot on board and the confidence levels will be up.

"Hillsborough is a great place to play and to win."

Ryan McGivern is available again after suspension, but doubts still surround the fitness of Barnsley loanee Martin Devaney.

The winger limped off in the draw at Fleetwood over two weeks ago with a hamstring strain - just 24 hours after extending his loan by another month - and has not played since.

But the Saddlers are not ruling out a return for the 30-year-old tonight and Clayton McDonald could also be available after his own hamstring problem.

Wednesday could be without goalkeeper Nicky Weaver, who has a knee injury.

By Nick Mashiter

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