Bescot Banter column: Positive mindset at Walsall
So, after opening the campaign with a duo of cup outings, our first competitive matches in over 180 days, we have reached the opening weekend of the League Two season and the Saddlers head into 2020/21 full of optimism, with many pundits predicting a potential Play-Off push.
Looking back at the recent cup clashes, the Saddlers entered two solid displays and, despite exiting the Carabao Cup at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday - the Owls advancing via a penalty shoot-out - Darrell Clarke's side showed plenty of defensive might to deny their Championship opponents in normal time.
There was little time to dwell upon the defeat as the match was swiftly followed up by a midweek EFL Trophy trip to Bristol Rovers. An encounter which also ended all-square in normal time but saw goals scored in open play as Zak Jules - netting his first goal in a Walsall shirt - and Josh Gordon bagged the Saddlers' goals on the way to a two-all draw.
It didn't end there however, as stopper Jack Rose, a former loanee who has returned to the club on a permanent basis after being released by Southampton at the end of last season, pulled off two superb saves during the post-match penalty shoot-out to secure a bonus point for his side.
Both of the matches presented the manager with an opportunity to explore his options ahead of the return to league action, something which could be all important as with the Coronavirus pandemic showing little sign of abating, and the threat of another curtailed campaign remaining in the background, it is more important than ever for the Saddlers to start the season strongly and secure as many points as possible.
And, following a welcome summer of stability, which saw the majority of last season's squad retained, the team appears to be among the strongest in the division, something Saddlers fans haven't had the luxury of for quite some time.
The recent recruitment of Rose, Hayden White and Emmanuel Osadebe mean the squad is much more balanced, with several players being able to play across multiple positions giving the gaffer a welcome selection headache over the opening few weeks of the campaign as he looks to build upon last season's mid-table finish.
It's refreshing to be heading into the opening few weeks of the league season with a positive mindset across the board. Despite fans not being able to see their heroes in person, and the boardroom having to battle against the financial woes caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, both the club and its supporters seem closer than ever.
And, whether we get fans back into stadiums in a few weeks or months, there remain plenty of reasons for optimism as we begin the 2020/21 campaign!