In last week’s match preview, I did say that end of season games can be boring, with nothing left to play for, for the mid table teams. It seems, however, that the Saddlers are not falling into that particular trap.
I’ve had plenty of issues with Chris Hutchings’ management this season, which have revolved around his seeming inability to change tactics and sometimes bewildering use (and lack of use) of substitutions, but what has never been in question is his ability to motivate the team. He has set a target of finishing as high as possible in this Division this season and, accordingly, we have ended up on an excellent run at the end, which makes the poor one which preceded it even more of a disappointment. With two games left, the first of which is to a Carlisle side which is four points behind us and has absolutely nothing to play for, we are within striking distance of former play off hopefuls Bristol Rovers and our opponents on the last day of the season, the Franchise.
A win tomorrow and one a week tomorrow would round the season off well and would also, surely, when coupled with the unrest on the terraces, persuade the powers that be at the club that a little investment next season might pay enormous dividends? Trouble is, I can’t see it myself.
What of the team selection, then?
Well, Gilmartin will be first choice next season, so he’ll be in goal (perhaps Ince’s chance will come next week, so we can say goodbye properly to a man who has done a great job for us?). Weston will not be here next season, especially following his trial at Motherwell, and, even if he were available, I wouldn’t replace Smith or MacDonald with Hughes, so the defence looks like:
Gilmartin, Westlake, Smith, MacDonald, Vincent.
The only thing that might be different would be if Westlake hasn’t recovered from a minor knock, in which case Weston will play.
In midfield, Mattis is still injured, so it picks itself:
Jones, Taundry, Richards, Gray.
Byfield may be fit again, but Deeney and Nicholls are likely to start.
As for Carlisle, they will be missing centre back Danny Livesey and also have a problem with goal scoring full back Ian Harte.
Of Livesey, physio Neil Dalton said: “He is definitely out of this weekend’s game. Beyond that we have to wait for the scan results. I would imagine it will probably show it is a tendon problem but there are so many tendons around that area it is best to scan it to see which one is involved. I don’t think it is a long-term, significant thing but we will know more when the results come back.”
David Raven will be Livesey’s likely replacement on Saturday.
Manager Abbott said he expected Harte to shake off a groin problem to appear against the Saddlers, while midfielder Tom Taiwo was also set to return to training yesterday after suffering an ankle knock at Southampton.
Striker Jason Price, on loan from Millwall, stepped off the substitutes’ bench last week after missing the previous two games with a hamstring strain and is pushing for a return to the starting line-up. Kevan Hurst (knee), Joe Anyinsah (double hernia), Matt Robson and Andy Cook (both foot) and Peter Murphy (knee) all remain sidelined.
The Saddlers have had a reverse of fortune from earlier in the season, when our away record was better than our home record. While going on this unbeaten run at home, we haven’t managed an away win since Leeds in February! That is a little deceptive, however, as there are two excellent away performances in there which resulted in only one point – the draw at Swindon and the heroic defeat at Huddersfield.
Carlisle, however, haven’t won at home since the 2nd April, and, while a home defeat to Leeds may be excusable, the other, to Oldham, certainly wasn’t. With any luck, they’ll be in their deckchairs and we’ll get three points.