Is this the year? Can we start to believe? Will the Saddlers make their first-ever visit to Wembley in the club’s 126-year-history?
This morning, the draw has been made for the Area Finals of the Johnstone Paint Trophy; and it has been good for Walsall: we play the first leg away at either Preston North End or Notts County. That means that we will be playing at home for the all-important second leg at which the matter will be decided.
With such a massive prize – our first ever visit to Wembley – I expect the Banks’s Stadium to be full to the rafters for the game, which will be played week commencing 2nd February (subject to any FA Cup commitments of Preston North End if they beat Notts County in their Area Semi-Final match).
Anybody following this week’s match away to Tranmere – either one of the 600-or-so Saddlers’ fans who made the trip to Prenton Park; or listening on the radio like me – must have thought twice that the dream was over for another year. Firstly, we went 2-0 down; but the lads didn’t let their heads drop and bagged a couple of goals to draw us level; but then there was the dreaded penalty shoot-out: something that we never seem to do well with (it was our first penalty shoot out victory in more than 10 years).
When Tranmere keeper Owain Fôn Williams stooped to his right to stop Ashley Grimes’ spot kick it looked like it was all over. But not so: Walsall hung on and when Saddlers’ vice-captain Paul Downing scored the winning penalty he sent a wave of ecstasy amongst the Saddlers supporters behind the goal and amongst those listening on the radio or watching online.
When Sky Sports televised our recent Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Area Quarter Final match against Sheffield United they brought the Trophy along for the cameras. I managed to grab a cheeky pic of it thanks to Saddlers’ snapper David Linney.
I’ve got a feeling that it will be coming back to Walsall this Season – and, hopefully, on the top of an open-top bus! We shouldn’t get complacent: we’ve still got to beat Preston or Notts County (the Magpies please) over two legs; and then face either Bristol or Gillingham in the final.
But whatever happens, this is certainly a good time to be a Saddler and I hope that the fans turn up in numbers to cheer us on: firstly on Saturday against Barnsley in will be our first home game in over a month; and then over the Christmas and New Year matches as we build up to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Area Final.