Chris Marsh: Crunch time is right now, Walsall!

Bury... Oldham... AFC Wimbledon... it doesn’t get any bigger than this for Saddlers.

Dean Keates
Dean Keates

Quite simply, the next three games are going to define Walsall’s season, writes Chris Marsh.

And if we don’t pick up a good number of points, then we don’t deserve to stay up.

Looking at the table as it stands today, I cannot believe the position Walsall find themselves in.

Dean Keates has inherited a right mess, he’s got a huge rebuilding job on his hands.

But first and foremost, he needs to keep the club in the division.

Looking back, I cannot believe the club waited until there were just nine games of the season left to sack Jon Whitney.

It didn’t matter who came in as manager, they didn’t have a transfer window and the chance to bring their own men in.

And it’s that poor recruitment in January that has led to the team falling into this relegation dogfight.

Tyler Roberts, Daniel Agyei, Zeli Ismail and James Wilson all left. But Walsall did not replace them with players of similar quality. The recruitment was dreadful.

We could see all Roberts was a special talent. He chipped in with some important goals.

But his creativity and ability to beat a man ensured he offered so much more.

Julien Ngoy has come in as his replacement and does look a talent. But he hasn’t had the impact of Roberts.

Justin Shaibu is also yet to fill the boots of Agyei.

And while Jack Fitzwater has done well, the experience of Wilson would still be hugely beneficial in this young squad. The biggest problem though is that the Saddlers didn’t replace Ismail at all.

He is a player I really liked. He’s a proper winger, either on fire or frustrating you. But he gave us pace and width.

And the problem is, Keates now wants to play in a 4-4-2 formation but he doesn’t have the wingers to do it.

I have to say I am a fan of Kieron Morris. He has his doubters, but his first touch for a League One player is excellent. And when he is on form, he carries the ball well and looks a real threat.

It’s a major problem, the squad is so short of wide men. The squad Whitney left simply isn’t good enough as the table shows.

Everyone has heard the saying ‘the table doesn’t lie’.

And it doesn’t. In a one-off game, you can get an upset – as we saw when Wigan beat Manchester City.

But over the course of a 46-game season, you finish where you deserve to finish.

At the moment we deserve to be two points above the drop and in a real fight to stay up.

I feel for Dean because he has come into the club at the worst possible time.

But while it is hard, we now have to all stay calm and back Keates and the players to get us out of this mess.

We may have lost to Portsmouth in his first game in charge, but there were still positives and signs of improvement.

The defence looked a lot tighter and more compact. I thought we defended well for long spells.

But in the end that little bit of luck deserted us, with Pompey’s goal one that should have been prevented.

That is something to hold on to though. In just 10 days on the training ground, Keates has us looking more defensively secure.

That is only going to improve over the next few weeks.

And if we are a bit braver going forward, we do have players who can score goals.

The most important thing now is that we back Dean, back the players and all stay together.

The next three games are winnable. Let’s all do our bit so we go out and win them!

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