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Blog: If someone had told you about Walsall

Walsall | Sport | Published:

If someone had told you exactly what was going to happen at Walsall at the start of the season, writes blogger Mark Jones.

If someone had told you before the season began that, from the end of September to the start of December, we would go 16 games without a win.

If someone had told you that assistant manager Richard O'Kelly would leave in January and his replacement, David Kelly, would stay for one game before leaving us in the lurch.

If someone had told you and that we would carry on without a No 2 for the final three months of the season.

If someone had told you that both our goalkeepers would leave before the end of the season, Jimmy Walker without playing a game.

If someone had told you and that we would use four different loan keepers in six different spells whilst ending the season with an untried youth team goalie on the bench.

If someone had told you that star loanee Florent Cuvelier would get injured then do his hamstring approximately eight minutes into a New Year comeback, return home then end the season elsewhere.

If someone had told you that we would be knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by a struggling non-league team in Lincoln at home and the Johnstone Paint Trophy at the first hurdle to an old rival on penalties, again.

If someone had told you that we would be suffer a 4-1 home defeat to the next to bottom team with 10 men and lose 5-1 in shambolic fashion against new rivals.

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If someone had told you that our pitch would deteriorate alarmingly with a detrimental effect on our style of play.

If someone had told you that we would lose to Shrewsbury on live TV and end the season with defeat at Gresty Road to a another dodgy penalty against a team made up entirely of Crewe and Arsenal Academy graduates.

If someone had told you that the rent and ownership situations would remain unchanged, you might just have written off the season as a disaster and thought that's Walsall for you.

If someone had told you all of the above was going to happen AND yet it was still going to be one of our greatest-ever seasons.

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A campaign to rival the heights of the Ray Graydon era, a future looking brighter than it has for decades. You might have thought you had mistakenly taken some kind of mind-altering substance.

Yet 2012-13 has been an absolute blast, with the dire parts just making the good parts even better. My personal highlights, well where do I begin?

The mini League Cup run gave us a decent night out at Queens Park Rangers - we will have some more of that please - where the Dean Holden song got its first airing.

Winning at Notts County in the last minute – were they really promotion favourites back then?

That gloriously sunny afternoon at Portsmouth when we first got a glimpse of the kind of football that was to become pretty much the norm past Christmas.

That was followed up by classy wins at home to Preston North End and at Bournemouth. It took a while, we played well enough early on in the Sour 16.

But, with a combination of bad luck and naivety costing us points, there was still the odd decent performance.

Crawley and Tranmere away and the first 75 mins against Yeovil before we finally managed that all important win over Colchester.

It's astonishing to think that that result was achieved as late on as December 22. Then, once we had turned the corner, there was no stopping us.

Eight out of 10 wins - and the two defeats were late, undeserved ones - running into a 15 match unbeaten streak lasting until the final quarter of an hour of the season.

We left any lingering worries about relegation behind almost as soon as the Xmas decorations came down, clambering over the mid-table mediocrity and breaking into that top 10.

For a while we dared to dream. At about 4.48 pm on April 13, we had broken into the top six.

Player of the Year Will Grigg shot up the goalscoring charts and Young Player Jamie Paterson has developed into one of the finest prospects in the division.

He added goals and assists to his repertoire, while Febian Brandy has been almost unstoppable. Congrats to all the end-of-season award winners.

But there's also been the emergence of James Baxendale, phenomenal leadership as always from Andy Butler, real quality from Andy Taylor.

The welcome surprise signing of Sam Mantom gelled in midfield with a revitalised Adam Chambers, brother James gave us an extra dimension and then there's the hugely0influential Craig Westcarr.

Plus Paul Downing has been a bit of an unsung hero, then there's Nicky Featherstone, George Bowerman, Mal Benning, Ben Purkiss and, of course, Dean Holden.

We have got plenty more youngsters coming through too, with another Midlands Youth Cup triumph in the bag.

We completed a deserved double over Milton Keynes Dons and Bournemouth, who looked anything but a promotion-chasing team with their comedy penalty routine and satirical goalkeeper.

There was Preston away, beauty slaying the beast, and payback time in the win at Doncaster, who looked anything but potential champions.

Grigg got his first professional hat-trick, before there was a fantastic and deserved late equaliser from Paterson at Swindon.

Then we made the Shrews look like dinosaurs as we sent them back over the border with their tails between their legs.

The Easter Monday redemption in the demolition of Coventry was probably my own personal highlight.

And despite the result, the end of season all-dayer in Crewe was a fine way to round off the season, they do need to sort out the state of their pitch though.

The season may have fizzled out a little bit, with three disappointing results at the end, and the feeling that we maybe should have finished even higher.

But there is a very real and very genuine optimism that we are in fact only at the start of something good.

If manager Dean Smith gets the right backing this summer, 2013-14 could be a massive one.

However, this was most definitely the season that football got sexy again. That's the mighty Saddlers for you.

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