Boss Dean Keates confident Walsall will beat the drop
He has spent the last 10 days getting to know Walsall’s players, assessing them on and off the field.
And following that extended spell on the training ground, boss Dean Keates is confident his new side has what it takes to remain in League One this season.
The 39-year-old will be in the Saddlers dugout for the first time tomorrow as they prepare to welcome promotion-chasing Portsmouth to the Banks’s Stadium.
They enter the game sitting 18th in the table, just four points above the drop zone with eight matches still to play.
Keates replaced the sacked Jon Whitney earlier this month and watched from the stands as the Saddlers slipped to 3-0 loss against Wigan 10 days ago.
But after Walsall’s game against Oldham was postponed, the new manager was granted extra time to get to know his players.
And he admits he has liked what he has seen.
“It’s been important for me to get to know the players individually,” Keates said.
“I wanted to get to know their characters and get to know them as a group. The break has worked very well in that respect.
“From what I have seen, I’m confident we will stay up.
“They are honest. They work hard. Sometimes you go into a football club and wonder whether they are fit – but they are very fit.
“I think maybe they are a little bit young. I think they have struggled on the leadership side.
“But all being well, I can give them a little bit of structure and confidence.
“I am confident the basics are there. I just need to get them organised. That is the minimum we can ask for at the moment.”
Keates, who won two promotions with the Saddlers as a player, rejoined the club as manager following a spell in charge of Wrexham.
While in charge of the Dragons, he favoured a traditional 4-4-2 formation with the team having the best defensive record in the National League before his departure. And while his aim is to make the Saddlers as defensively sound, he feels it will take time.
“I’ll be able to play 4-4-2 here but there are one or two, if you look at it position wise, who may be square pegs in round holes,” the boss continued.
“It is something we will look at. There is a good chance it’s a system I will go with. But there are options to flip it into a different system.
“That is what I played at Wrexham. But it was set in stone from day one. Everyone knew their roles and responsibilities. That’s what you get when you’re working from day one at a club, when you’ve had a full pre-season.”
Portsmouth head to the Banks’s tomorrow having won their last two matches – with Kenny Jackett’s side sitting just two points outside the play-offs.
But Keates is confident his team will get something from the game.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” he added. “They are full of confidence.
“But the players know what is at stake and what needs to be done for the football club.
“There will be a good atmosphere. Portsmouth are a massive club and travel in numbers.
“But we are at home. We are confident.
“Our fans will be our 12th man and we are determined to start picking up results so we can stop looking over our shoulder.”