Chris Marsh: Walsall can hurt big boys
They are two of the toughest games Walsall will face this season.
But the up and coming fixtures against Sunderland and Portsmouth represent a huge opportunity for Dean Keates and his players.
At the start of the campaign, both those teams were tipped by the bookies to win promotion.
And it’s easy to understand why. Historically, they are big clubs who have been in the Premier League recently.
They also have huge fanbases and can pay more money in wages.
So far, they haven’t disappointed with the Black Cats second in the table and Pompey first.
But these are the type of games that, as a professional, you have to relish.
They will be played in front of big crowds and they’ll be a great atmosphere – that has got to excite you as a footballer.
Walsall will be underdogs in both the matches. But this is a chance for the players to show how good they are.
They did it at Barnsley earlier in the season. And if they can get two positive results, who knows where it will lead.
I’ve said in this column before that’s it’s around Christmastime the table really starts to settle down.
December really is a frantic time. Walsall have six games in 22 days over the festive period.
And it’s that spell that can make or break your campaign.
If Walsall can get positive results against both Sunderland and Portsmouth, they are going to go into that spell full of confidence.
And if they can put a run together, they are going to find themselves in a really strong position.
We have seen over the past few weeks that Keates’s side have started to find the form they showed in the opening months of the campaign.
They got the win over Coventry in the FA Cup. And I thought they defended well in the goalless draw at Fleetwood on Saturday.
On the balance of play a draw was probably the right result, but on another day they could have won it with Russell Martin, Jon Guthrie and Morgan Ferrier all having decent chances to score.
It’s the clean sheet that was most pleasing thing, though.
It was imperative Walsall got that because for seven games in a row they had conceded two goals or more.
But they looked organised at Highbury Stadium and showed the desire needed to keep the ball out the net.
Now they have to keep that up. If they do, 2019 could be an exciting year.
Finally this week, I just want to say how much I am looking forward to being at the Banks’s Stadium on Saturday.
There is reunion taking place on Friday to mark the 20th anniversary we won promotion.
Unfortunately I can’t make that – Adi Viveash and I will be with Coventry, we’ve got Peterborough that night.
Jimmy Walker, who is now goalkeeping coach at Ipswich, also won’t be there as they play Albion.
But we are all heading to the game on the Saturday where we will meet up with the rest of the boys and Ray Graydon.
There is going to be a good turnout and it’s going to be great to see the lads again.
I’ve got so many happy memories – both on and off the field – from that 1998/99 season.
And I can’t wait to reminisce and catch up with the lads.
Some I talk to often, some I bump into and some I’ve not seen for a while. But it’s always great when we do get together.
Hopefully, we’ll get a cheer or two when we walk out on to the pitch at half-time.