After six months without football due to the coronavirus pandemic, Walsall’s 2020/21 campaign gets under way at home against the Championship outfit in the Carabao Cup.
The EFL Trophy and League Two return next week, but tomorrow afternoon, in front of the Sky Sports cameras, offers Walsall the chance to open their account in impressive fashion. For Lavery, who began his career at the Yorkshire club before moving across the Steel City to rivals Sheffield United, it is an opportunity to bite back at his former employers.
“It will be the first time I’ve played against them since I left, so it’s definitely one I’m looking forward to,” he said.
“I had a good time there, broke through into the first team and started my career off there, so it’s something I’m looking forward to. I did the little jump across the city which isn’t fondly remembered by a lot of people in Sheffield.
“But it was good (at Wednesday). A lot of learning, and a lot of loans, but I grew a lot and it helped me get to where I am.
“You remember your time there well and you appreciate where you’ve come from, but at the same time it’s your old employer for one reason or another.
“You want to go and do the best for the club that you play for and do one over on the old club.”
Despite Walsall’s opponents sitting two divisions higher, Lavery insists hard work will ensure the Saddlers match Wednesday tomorrow afternoon.
“They’re in the Championship and you expect them to be strong all over the pitch but you expect us also to go out and put on a good show,” he added. “Go toe-to-toe with them. You can say whatever you want about Championship players but as long as we work as hard as them then you never know what can happen. If we get a positive result it will set us up nicely.”
Throughout lockdown, the Walsall squad stayed fit with Zoom training sessions and regular running – using the Strava app to record their progress.
Having returned to training at the beginning of August and being given a month of preparation, Lavery says the squad is raring to go.
“It’s been really good and positive, training has been sharp,” he said. “Everyone has come back in good shape. You never know what will happen after such a long time out but everyone has come back good.
“Running has been good, training has been good and we’re all looking forward to starting the proper season again.
“It’s been long. A lot longer than any of us wanted or expected.
“We’re not used to that time off so it gets to the point where you’re sitting there, not knowing what to do with yourself and going for runs as much as you can.
“At the end of the day you miss playing football so it’s nice to be back.”
Meanwhile, fans will not be allowed to tomorrow’s game and are unlikely to return until October at the earliest.
Although it will be a surreal experience for the team, Lavery insists they can make no excuses.
“The only experience (without fans) is playing reserve games,” he added. “You’re not used to it, it will be difficult but every team is in the same position. You cannot make any excuses, you have to get on with it and show professionalism.”
With many first-team players rested for the club’s final pre-season friendly on Tuesday, Darrell Clarke is expected to pick a strong line-up tomorrow.
Although the manager insists on keeping injury news and updates to himself, all of the players seemed to come through the friendlies unscathed. Stuart Sinclair and George Nurse were both missing in last Saturday’s draw to Burton, so it remains to be seen if they will be involved tomorrow.
Clarke has enjoyed utilising the 4-2-3-1 formation during his preparations – the same set-up that served him well in the closing stages of the season.
Wednesday, however, are likely to operate with three centre-backs, potentially in a 3-5-2 formation, meaning Clarke may choose to match them.