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Walsall v Swindon preview: Saddlers need to provide some joy for home fans

When Walsall beat play-off-chasing Swindon Town 2-1 away on Boxing Day they were in a rich vein of form and eyeing up an extension of the season themselves.

Manny Monthe (Owen Russell)
Manny Monthe (Owen Russell)

Nine games unbeaten, in the third round of the FA Cup and seemingly no problem scoring goals, the Saddlers fans were enjoying themselves and so was the team.

Fast forward to tonight’s reverse fixture and things are different.

Walsall have not won in 13 games in all competitions since the turn of the year and have scored just 11 goals, with the departure of top scorer Danny Johnson back to parent club Mansfield Town a seemingly glaring factor in that.

Michael Flynn has spoke a number of times recently of players having to prove to him they are worth another contract or that they can justify the one they will still be in at the end of the season.

After the 3-1 defeat at Stevenage he seemed at a loss to explain how things have gone so badly wrong, though he was quick to accept some of the blame himself, saying they were ‘bullied’ in the first half of the game.

He said: “I blame myself for the first-half performance which was a disgrace because we needed men not boys and I know how Stevenage set themselves up, particularly at home so I will accept criticism.

“But I do question how much performances like this hurt certain people – I put my heart and soul into the club and yes I am paid to do so, but I just wonder about some of the others.”

Although they haven’t won for what is now well over two months, a lot of the games have been drawn and Walsall are 12 points off the play-offs with the same number of games left.

But there has been little to suggest they can make up that gap, or score the goals necessary to do so.

With two home games coming up, Gillingham visiting next on Saturday, now really is the time to give the fans a performance, as Flynn also said on Saturday.

Planning for next season has begun off the field, with an increase in season ticket prices announced, and a fans’ forum with co-chairmen Leigh Pomlett and Benjamin Boycott looming large.

Any realistic hopes of the play-offs are probably now over for Walsall, with only the most optimistic fan thinking they can get there – even Flynn’s body language says it is impossible.

Visitors Swindon probably have a slim chance, being seven points away from seventh-placed Salford City with three points in hand.

They have only won two games in the last five though and a late goal saw Carlisle beat them 2-1 at the County Ground on Saturday

Former Albion striker Charlie Austin is likely to be in the line up – he rejoined Swindon at the end of December last year.

For Walsall, the home fans will demand a response from the Stevenage game, where the players failed to turn up in the first half after an improved performance against Bradford.

Nothing less than a win tonight will do.

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