Date: 31st January 2020 at 6:00pm
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Tomorrow afternoon sees Crewe Alexandra take the relatively short journey down the M6 to Walsall’s Bescot Stadium with the Saddlers sitting in 14th place and the Alex looking to do the league double following a 1-0 win at the Alexandra Stadium back in August.

So far this season, they have beaten Northampton Town, Morecambe, Scunthorpe United twice, Crawley Town twice, Cambridge United, Port Vale, Leyton Orient and Salford City, they have drawn with Forest Green Rovers, Newport County, Colchester United, Stevenage, Macclesfield Town and Exeter City while they have lost to us, Plymouth Argyle, Grimsby Town, Bradford City, Salford, Cheltenham Town twice, Oldham Athletic, Mansfield Town, Swindon Town, Carlisle United twice and Morecambe.

In the cups, they lost to Crawley in the EFL Cup 1st Round while they lost against Oxford United in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup after defeating Darlington following a replay in Round 1. In the EFL Trophy, they finished topped their group despite losing the first game on penalties to Coventry City after beating both Southampton’s Under-21 side and Forest Green Rovers, defeated Chelsea’s Under-21s in Round 2 before losing to Portsmouth in Round 3.

Since the first meeting, they have made three signings with winger Jack Nolan arriving on an undisclosed fee a couple of weeks ago while striker Rory Gaffney (late August) and defender Nathan Sheron (10 days ago) both arrived on season-long loans. They have also allowed loan deals for defender Tom Leak to join Salisbury until March and midfielder Gary Liddle to join Hartlepool United until the end of the season.

Looking back in the archives, the two teams have met 73 times over the years with Walsall winning 31 games to 23 with 19 draws. The Alex’s biggest victory came in May 1993 in the play-offs with the Alex winning 5-1 at the Alexandra Stadium (ended 9-2 on agg.) whilst Walsall’s biggest win came at previous home Fellows Park in October 1958 with the hosts winning 6-0.

Who are the officials for the game?

The officials for this game see Lee Swabey as the man in the middle where he is assisted by Declan Ford and Gareth Viccars with Ian Smedley being the fourth official. Here are the Crewe games that have been refereed by Swabey in the previous 5 years:

  • Crewe Alexandra 3-1 Doncaster Rovers (30th April 2016) – Ainley, Haber, Inman
  • Yeovil Town 3-0 Crewe Alexandra (17th April 2017)
  • Barnet 2-1 Crewe Alexandra (30th March 2018) – McKirdy
  • Crewe Alexandra 0-1 Carlisle United (10th November 2018, FA Cup)
  • Cheltenham Town 1-1 Crewe Alexandra (28th September 2019) – Porter

I asked Walsall supporters site Bescot Banter for their thoughts going into the game and the rest of the season.

How would you describe your season so far?

In a word, frustrating. Following a slow start, the Saddlers looked to have found their rhythm. However, despite the manager almost completely rebuilding his squad over the summer, we’ve fallen back into old habits.

Encouraging wins are often followed up by dismal draws or defeats as we’ve become consistently inconsistent. Whilst the aim of the season was to achieve safety and go from there, the team has offered enough glimpses to know that there is something to be built upon, but sadly we’re not seeing enough of it.

Which position is the one that you should improve the most in this transfer window from the squad you currently have?

Sadly the manager has sought to lower expectations over recent hours and is apparently unlikely to be making any moves on Deadline Day. However, the team is crying out for some width.

Whilst Wes McDonald has done well, he doesn’t have a counterpart on the opposite wing leaving the team a little lopsided. Clarke has tried a few options with Josh Gordon dropping onto the wing in recent games but it’s clearly a position that requires a new addition.

What do you think the team will be for the game?

The gaffer has an annoying habit of changing his team even following a win and, given our recent defeats to basement-battlers Carlisle United and Morecambe, is likely to make a few changes this weekend.

Liam Roberts will likely continue in goal but many of the other positions are open to debate. But since you asked, we’d like to see a 4-4-2 set up with Cameron Norman, Kory Roberts, Mat Sadler and Cameron Pring across the back-line. A midfield of Jack Nolan, Danny Guthrie, Nathan Sheron, and Wes McDonald. With Caolan Lavery partnering Josh Gordon in the attack.

How would you set-up to nullify your team?

It all depends on which team we see. Be it the team which remained calm and bounced back from going a goal down against Crawley to take all three points or the one which suffered back-to-back defeats just a few short days ago.

Our backline is very inconsistent and is likely to come under plenty of pressure this weekend. Setting up with plenty of pace and offering very little breathing room could pay dividends on Saturday afternoon.

With that being said, the manager is likely to have his players’ ears ringing with information on how to disrupt their opponents as he is looking to avoid a third defeat in as many games. Whether he can achieve his aim remains to be seen.

Who is the danger man for this game?

Wes McDonald has been the one to watch so far this season. Despite the likes of Josh Gordon and Caolan Lavery topping him in the goalscoring department – and his less-than-stellar display against Morecambe in midweek – Wes has been a consistent threat and is capable of both making and scoring goals and may well be the key player if we are to take anything from the encounter.

What do you think is a realistic aim for Walsall this season from here?

Our disappointingly infrequent spells of form have given supporters few reasons to be cheerful as of late. Whilst we’d like to see the team push for the Play-Offs, mid-table stability is probably a more realistic aim as we’re only in the early stages of a long-term plan and probably need a few Transfer Windows to get the squad in shape to not only battle for promotion but to remain in a higher league for more than just one season.