Express & Star

Mat Sadler hails 'brave' Walsall after big win over promotion chasing Wrexham

Mat Sadler has hailed Walsall's "brave" performance as they produced an outstanding 3-1 victory over Wrexham to sign off 2023 in style.


The Saddlers have collected four wins from their previous five games in League Two, and have climbed to within five points of the play-offs heading into the New Year.

And Sadler believes Walsall showcased evidence of their potential as a team against a side, which he's convinced will be celebrating promotion at the end of the campaign.

"We were brave, we were bold, which is what I asked the guys to be. I thought we played some fantastic football tonight," Sadler revealed.

"It was a real good one for belief, it was a really good one for evidence because we were great, and that team will go up.

"Wrexham will go up. They are a fantastic team, Phil (Parkinson) has set them up really well, and they've got some really good players.

"I thought we played fantastically well tonight and showed what we're all about. Now, we need to dust ourselves down and count the walking wounded.

"We've got a few bodies on the treatment table. Obviously Oisin and Stirk didn't play tonight, Jamille had to go off at half-time.

"We're counting the bodies, the guys are throwing their bodies on the line for us, and doing everything they can as a team when called upon."

Sadler made two changes with David Okagbue returning at the expense of Oisin McEntee, who picked up a hamstring injury in the Boxing Day win over Crewe, whilst Jack Earing came in for his first start in exactly a year, as he replaced Ryan Stirk.

McEntee looks set to be poised for a number of weeks on the sidelines, although Stirk, Joe Riley and Ross Tierney could be available by Walsall's trip to Stockport County on January 13.

"Probably the week after that (for Ross Tierney and Joe Riley), so Stockport is probably where we are targeting for that now," Sadler confirmed.

"(Stirk and Oisin) both had scans as I said at the time. Oisin looks a little bit worse. We'll see exactly what that looks like but it looks like it could be a little bit of a longer one, which is a real shame because he has amazing for us this year.

"We're talking weeks. It's a significant injury. He won't be back any time soon.

"Stirk's is not so bad. He was around no-one on Boxing Day and just rolled his ankle. It's a bit soar but he won't be too long. Again, potentially back for Stockport - we'll see."

Earing replaced Stirk and marked an emotional night with the opening goal in the 16th minute. He combined beautifully with Draper inside the box and applied a tidy finish into the bottom corner.

And Sadler was delighted to see him reap the reward for his hard work after such a long road to recovery.

"Jack's a great player. He epitomizes everything I want from a professional. The work that he has put in to get himself fit," he said.

"We knew that 70 minutes might be his lot today and fair play to him. He didn't hold it in and he just went flat out for that spell.

"I am so happy for him and he is an inspiration because of the work that he has done to get himself fit.

"I was there on the training when it happened. It was a horrible moment and something you dread as a footballer. What he has then done to get himself fit is an inspiration."

Paul Mullin equalised from the spot in the 25th minute after Tom Knowles was adjudged to have handled the forward's effort inside the box.

But Isaac Hutchinson restored Walsall's lead on the hour-mark, and Sadler was full of praise for the midfielder, who he believes has a fantastic career ahead of him.

"Isaac is a gifted footballer and the work that he puts in off the ball goes unotticed sometimes because he's one of our highest runners every game," he observed.

"He can do pretty much anything on a football pitch. You look at some of the players that they (Wrexham) have who've had fantastic careers and he's just as good.

"He ran all over the opposition at times. He's got a fantastic career ahead of him and we'll keep his feet on the ground, and keep him working the way that he is."

And local lad Taylor Allen capped off a special night with his very first Walsall goal to seal the deal late on.

"I am delighted that he has had that moment because Taylor works so hard every day. He drives the group at times, he is a real leader and a real voice, but most importantly, he is a great person," he concluded.

"Sometimes you can look back on your career at the end of it, you don't always get moments like that. So, I am so happy he has had that.

"We always say that the work that you do in the shadows is sometimes the most important. He has been willing to do the extra miles, as has Jack (Earing), and I am so pleased for them."