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James O'Connor ready for Walsall battle

Walsall | Sport | Published:

If the next eight games are to be a battle, James O'Connor is in no doubt Walsall have the stomach for it.

That's a theory which will be tested soon enough.

Tomorrow's meeting with Notts County became a very big game the moment Sam Hird thumped his header past Richard O'Donnell, condemning the Saddlers to defeat at Chesterfield last Saturday and leaving them just three points above County and the bottom four.

Yet despite a run of just one win in nine games, O'Connor is convinced they are showing the qualities required to overcome their mini-crisis and leave a present flirtation with the relegation zone at precisely that.

"I think you see certain teams, in certain seasons, where it looks like they have gone," says the defender. "That wasn't the case on Saturday. It was a bad goal from our point of view at a crucial point in the game.

"Had we come away with a 0-0 it would have been something we could build on.

"But I think we can still build on those battling qualities."

Tomorrow represents not just an opportunity to restore some breathing space but also improve a woeful home record, which has seen them win just five times at the Banks's this season and just one of their last nine.

"What a better opportunity to turn it round?" adds O'Connor. "Being at home while on a bad run, why can't it be Friday when we change it?

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"I have felt all season that it is not a case of being at home and dreading being at home.

"We like playing in front of our home crowd.

"When they get behind us it is great.

"If we can make a good start on Friday, get a win, I'm sure it will be fine.

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"But it is not just going to happen - we are well aware it is only ourselves who can get us out of this trouble."

Despite the late winner conceded, O'Connor impressed at the heart of a Saddlers which was solid for all but one, crucial, moment.

The 30-year-old had been recalled after being left out of the XI at Wembley, where he found himself at the centre of false rumours claiming he had 'stormed out' after learning of his omission.

Both O'Connor and his manager were quick to cast the story as complete fabrication. But for a man who prides himself on being a team player, the whispers hurt.

"There were a few things said last week which were completely wrong and offended me a bit to be honest, though it was all cleared up," he says. "I acted like a good pro, like I have done since I have been here and throughout my whole career.

"Being left out of a cup final and going home to your family is hard enough, to see that was a bit upsetting.

"That's rumours for you.

"I went to see the gaffer on Monday to try and clear it up, which I felt was the right thing to do.

"I have too much respect for my team-mates to act like that or think I am above anyone. It has gone now in my eyes."

As one of the club's senior players, O'Connor will have a key role over the season's final four weeks. The Saddlers situation is worrying but not yet critical and he knows the finish can be as difficult, or as easy, as they choose to make it.

"It is in our hands and we have plenty of time to put things right - but it is up to us to do it," he said.

"Every game is critical, throughout the season in this division. There is something on every game pretty much, whether it be play-offs or promotion.

"I said at the start of the year if you can string three together you will be right up there. If we get a couple of wins, we will be right as rain.

"I suppose tomorrow is (a six pointer). I know the media like to label things.

"It is an important game, they all are. We are well aware of what it means and of what the next eight games mean."

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