Comment: It was one job too far for Jon Whitney at Walsall
For more than 15 years Jon Whitney has been part of the furniture at the Banks’s Stadium.
Whether it was in his role as physio, head of medical, assistant manager or manager, he gave Walsall Football Club everything he had.
But it is in that final role as boss that he has come up short, with the club having now opted to part ways with the 47-year-old.
In truth, the Walsall hierarchy had little option.
Whitney’s relationship with supporters had deteriorated to such an extent, the atmosphere around the club had become toxic.
It’s been like that for the entire season, yet somehow the former Lincoln and Hull defender managed to make it even worse last week.
Over the past few years, Whitney has often spoken about the jobs he has done outside of football.
He has cleaned toilets, dug graves and worked in supermarkets. He often described them as “tough jobs” – jobs that helped shape him as a person.
But last week he described them as “crappy jobs” which quite rightly upset a lot of people.
As someone who knows Whitney, I can assure anyone who was offended that he did not mean the comments to come across as they did.
Nevertheless, they were stupid. And they ensured fans were baying for blood both before, during and after Saturday’s derby defeat to Shrewsbury.
Whitney’s comments in the press have often infuriated. But it is results that are, ultimately, his undoing.
Ever since his appointment as permanent manager, he has been unable to build a team that is capable of achieving positive results on a consistent basis.
As interim boss, he did a sterling job achieving a third-place finish at a time Walsall were heading out of the promotion race following the sacking of Sean O’Driscoll.
But since then his teams have gone on to make the same mistakes time and time again, with seemingly no improvement being made.
Along the way there have been glimpses that Whitney might be the manager he has ambitions to be.
After the Saddlers narrowly missed out on promotion, the former defender had to completely rebuild the squad following the departures of Tom Bradshaw, Romaine Sawyers and Rico Henry et al.
Understandably, the team initially struggled for results. But they did enough to get by and after thumping Sheffield United at home, they went on a run that put them in outside contention for a place in the play-offs.
But a 3-2 loss at Southend – a match that saw the Saddlers take a 2-0 lead – ended any faint promotion hopes.
And then Walsall finished the season in truly disastrous fashion with defeats to Coventry, Port Vale and MK Dons.
For many fans, that poor finish was enough. They had seen that Whitney was not up to the job.
Yet the mistakes kept coming, with this writer believing it was a huge mistake to discard James O’Connor as well as Scott Laird last summer.
In a squad severely lacking in experience, they were the only players who had previously won promotion from League One. They also both wanted to be at Walsall. But Whitney didn’t want them and has been made to pay throughout this season.
Too many times this year the team has defended shambolically.
Even today – 37 games into the season – Walsall cannot deal with crosses into the box as the defeat at Shrewsbury showed. They also consistently fail to do what Whitney calls “the basics”.
But while Whitney has been quick to blame the players for that, he has to take the lion’s share of the responsibility.
He was the manager after all, and the players should be following his game plan.
In many ways, the past week or so defines Whitney’s time in charge
The Saddlers were brilliant 10 days ago when – somewhat ironically – they thumped Southend 3-0 at Roots Hall.
Yet they followed it up by being humbled at home by Rochdale. And they then lost the derby at Shrewsbury.
‘One step forward, two steps back,’ best describes Whitney’s time in charge. And now he has left, Walsall will hope they can start to consistently move in the right direction.
I don’t believe the Saddlers would have gone down this season if Whitney had remained in charge.
He is a manager capable of winning games here and there and that would have been enough.
But he has shown nothing over the past two years to suggest Walsall wouldn’t endure another campaign of inconsistency if he was to remain in charge next season.
It would probably be even worse if, as expected, the out-of-contract Erhun Oztumer moves on.
Whitney is a good man who did his best for Walsall and his personal relationship with owner Jeff Bonser and the board means they have found it very hard to sack him.
But over the past two years results haven’t been good enough and the team has not shown enough improvement.
Most importantly though, Whitney’s relationship with supporters was past the point of no return.
For that reason he had to go, despite all his efforts over the past 15 years.
His last job, sadly, was one job too far.