Chris Marsh: Full marks to Dean Keates after wonderful Walsall start
We are just two games into the League One season, but Walsall supporters have got a spring in their step.
Nobody is getting carried away, we know there is a long way still to go.
But, all of a sudden, there is an optimism sweeping around the club and it’s refreshing to see.
We have made an excellent start to the season. Victory over Plymouth was followed by a really positive display at Scunthorpe that should have resulted in another three points.
But I think what’s exciting is the manner of our performances in those matches, we’ve really taken the game to our opponents.
When Dean Keates first came in, it was all about staying up. He had to get results to get us over the line and it was a scrap.
I remember writing back then that performances didn’t matter.
It was all about retaining our League One status.
Now though things are different and it’s clear Keates has really revamped things over the summer.
He’s signed players he is familiar with, like Andy Cook who he wanted when he was at Wrexham.
And he has also brought in his own coaching staff, he’s surrounded himself with people he trusts.
It’s made a huge difference, and one thing I really like is that it seems Keatesy isn’t too bothered by who they are playing.
He is going for it, he’s playing attacking football and really trying to get wingers Josh Ginnelly and Zeli Ismail in the game.
It goes back to when we played in the same team because Walsall have always had excellent wingers.
Jeff Person was the best player I played with in a Saddlers shirt.
But Johnny Hodge, Willie Naughton and Pedro Matías could cause problems for any side.
In Ginnelly and Ismail, we have two exciting wingers who have made an excellent start to the season.
And I don’t think Keatsy will want them to change, he will want them going out every week and running at their full-back and trying to create. I think a lot of managers worry too much about the opposition and they tinker with their shape and system because of it.
But I think we will be 4-4-2 every week and we will go at teams. And in Ismail and Ginnelly we have wingers that give us real balance.
Ginnelly puts in a real shift and is happy to help out his full-back. Darren Wrack was like that with me, he always worked really hard.
And then you have the others who won’t track back like Hodge. But he offered so much going forward he could get away with it.
I always used to tell him to just say wide and I’d find him. I was defending on my own. But if we got the ball to him, he’d cause problems.
Ultimately, Ginnelly and Ismail are going to be judged on goals and assists.
But the set-up of the team looks healthy.
It’s a style not a million miles away from how we played under Ray Graydon when we won promotion back in 1999.
And I’ve got to admit, it’s got me dreaming.
That year we started by securing a 1-0 win at Gillingham on the opening day.
We were outplayed and should have lost the game. But we got a late free-kick on the half-way line, which I took, and I just sent a hopeful ball into the box.
It was route one, Wimbledon-style. But it hit a defenders head and went in.
I tried to claim it, but the lads were having none of it.
But from there we grew and grew and collected 10 points from the opening month.
It’s amazing what a good start can do. We went on to win 13 games away from home that year and it was that Gillingham game that got us going.
From there we were always in the mix. We never let the gap to our rivals get too big.
That’s what I‘d love to see from Walsall this year, just to stay in the mix.
If you can place some roots in the top half of the table and always stay within three or four points of the top six, anything can happen.
It’s all about going into the last few months and still being in the race, instead of looking over your shoulder.
We’re going to lose games this season, of course we are. Every team will.
But it’s all about how you respond and ensuring you don’t lose three or four on the spin – that’s when the gaps start to build.
It’s early days and we shouldn’t get carried away.
But Walsall deserve full marks so far. And it’s nice to feel something is building.