Jon Whitney hails 'outstanding' Liam Roberts and Walsall squad following victory
Walsall boss Jon Whitney singled out goalkeeper Liam Roberts but said he was proud of all of his players following their 2-1 victory over Oxford.
Goals from Amadou Bakayoko and Erhun Oztumer put the Saddlers into the ascendancy at the Banks’s Stadium before Alex Mowatt netted a consolation.
But it was Liam Roberts who was the true hero with the shot-stopper producing four outstanding saves to twice deny James Henry and keep out Wes Thomas and Jon Obika.
And Whitney admitted he was delighted with the 23-year-old.
“Liam was outstanding he has pulled off some world class saves,” the boss said.
“It seems like an exaggeration when you say world class but I think they were, especially the tip-over in the second half which was outstanding.
“His whole demeanour today was really good. I thought he commanded his box really well and played out when he could.
“He’s coming out of himself and he’s been through a lot, Robbo, in his life and I’m proud of the kid.”
Whitney included five Saddlers youth team graduates in his starting XI with Liam Kinsella, Kory Roberts, Reece Flanagan and Amadou Bakayoko joining Liam Roberts in the team.
And he felt all of them gave everything they could to get their team over the line.
“It was a good game, an incredible tempo,” the boss continued.
“They put us under pressure late on. The free-kick when they got it, I thought ‘we are going to get punished for this’ because it was central and they have a bit of quality.
“But I thought we dug in at the end with some resolute defending and saw out the game.
“The effort of our young players, and the desire and determination to try to play the right way when they were trying to press us, made me proud of the way the players took it on today and when they needed to, they did the ugly stuff.
“Sometimes, in periods, you’ve got to win ugly and put your bodies on the line and just fight for it. I’m proud of the players and I thought the fans were excellent today also.”
The game was played amidst a backdrop of unrest– with around 100 fans opting to stand outside the ground in the 80th minute and protest against how owner Jeff Bonser is running the club.
Whitney too met with disgruntled supporters at a focus meeting on Thursday in a bid to rebuild a connection with fans.
And the boss felt the past three days had been positive for him and his team.
“There was a really good vibe about the place today.” Whitney added.
“If someone had said to me at 6pm on Thursday that I would end up sitting facing you guys now with how the meeting went plus a win, then I’d have taken that with both hands. I’d have jumped at that.
“That comes from the energy from me, my staff, my players and I thought the fans were open and honest as well – and I thought, as a collective, we all played a part in that win today.
“It’s important we don’t get carried away – it’s just a win but it makes it much easier, on the back of Thursday to get a result to build into next week.
“Of course not everything is going to be fixed overnight but at least we are heading in the right direction.”