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Walsall FC: No need to re-lay the foundations

Walsall | Sport | Published:

Yesterday's announcement of Walsall's released and retained list was never likely to match the drama of last year.

Then, Dean Smith's decision to offload top scorer Craig Westcarr and a host of other strikers who failed to cut the mustard kick-started a summer rebuild of the forward line.

Twelve months on, with many key players already tied down, it was always going to be more about the odd tweak than anything too drastic.

That will not make things less sore for Ben Purkiss, Mal Benning, Ashley Grimes and Jake Heath, the four men deemed surplus to requirements who must now look for homes elsewhere.

It is not an enviable situation. Of the players released by the club last year, only Westcarr managed to find instant re-employment in the Football League, while Nicky Featherstone was, eventually, able to battle his way back into it, albeit at the very bottom with Hartlepool.

From this year's quartet, Purkiss' release is by far the most surprising. The 31-year-old right-back is hugely popular in the dressing room and on the terraces and has come on leaps and bounds from the player who first joined the club three years ago.

After starting this campaign late due to injury, he was for a long time among their best performers and a fixture in their near record-breaking defence.

His form had, admittedly, dipped in recent weeks but his 39 appearances for the campaign was not far off eclipsing the total from his first two years at the Banks's combined.

Perhaps his release is best viewed as the manager refusing to rest on his laurels, with one eye already on the future.

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Purkiss is a perfectly dependable right-back. Liam Kinsella however, 12 years younger, has the potential to do far more.

The emergence of a younger, more talented man also sealed the fate of Benning, the odd one out in a left-back battle with Andy Taylor and 17-year-old Rico Henry.

Grimes, an honest and hard-working forward, never looked like scoring enough goals to emulate the billing given by Smith last summer, while Heath spent much of the campaign on loan at Rushall and should be able to now rebuild his career from a lower level.

For Smith, the next priority is securing deals for those he wishes to keep. James O'Connor and James Chambers formed an impressive central defensive partnership during the final two months of the campaign, while Paul Downing remains a long-term hope in that position and is close to signing a new contract, though supporters will hope for at least one more central defensive signing.

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Skipper Adam Chambers continues to make a mockery his age and was in the picture for player of the season, along with Tom Bradshaw and eventual winner Richard O'Donnell.

The latter's future will, of course, remain the biggest question mark over the summer's opening weeks but having coped with the loss of Andy Butler last year, Smith will approach the possible dilemma of replacing his No.1 in a positive mood.

Unwanted attention in Bradshaw cannot be ruled out and would change things significantly.

But right now, Smith has the rare pleasure of approaching a summer tasked with enhancing the structure of his team, rather than once again re-laying the foundations.

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