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League 1 Spotlight: Walsall

Tom Hancock profiles the Saddlers.

3 August 2018

Walsall will be keen to banish memories of last season as soon as possible. Two years on from missing out on automatic promotion to the Championship by a single point, the Saddlers stayed up by just a couple – a stark reminder, as if it were needed, of how quickly footballing fortunes can change.

Only the four relegated sides and final day escapees Rochdale managed fewer wins than Walsall last season, while only the bottom three and 14th-placed Fleetwood were on the receiving end of more defeats. And with a goal difference that was the worst outside the bottom four, they'll have plenty of work to do if they’re to survive again in 2018/19.

The departure of star player and top scorer Erhun Oztumer certainly hasn’t made the task facing Dean Keates’ men any easier. The Saddlers boss was only in charge for the final nine games of 2017/18, with his two wins coming against the eventually relegated Bury and Northampton, but his status as a club legend should at least ensure that the fans are on his side.

Last season: 19th in League One

In charge: Dean Keates
Keates returned to his hometown club, where he began his playing career in 1995, in March, having spent the previous 15 months in charge of National League Wrexham. The former midfielder made over 150 appearances for the Dragons and more than 200 for the Saddlers, spending two spells with the latter. Wycombe fans may remember his short time here back in 2010, when he scored once in 13 games, the last of which, incidentally, came against Walsall.

Star player: Joe Edwards
Despite the overall disappointment of the Saddlers’ 2017/18 campaign, their vice-captain performed strongly throughout and sat on seven goals and three assists when his season was abruptly cut short in February by a serious knee injury. The 27-year-old midfielder is set to be out of action until at least November, but if he can carry on from where he left off, he'll likely have a big part to play once again.

Key ins: Goalkeeper James Dunn has linked back up with Keates after leaving Wrexham. Winger Josh Ginnelly has moved on a free transfer from Burnley, while defender Kane Wilson has joined on a season-long loan from West Brom. Midfielder Zeli Ismail has arrived on a free from Bury.

Key outs: The aforementioned Oztumer has joined Championship Bolton after coming to the end of his contract. Stopper Mark Gillespie has departed for Scottish Premiership Motherwell.

EFL head-to-head:
Meetings: 18
Wycombe wins: 6
Walsall wins: 8
Draws: 4

First meeting: 01/01/1994 (League Two): Walsall 4-2 Wycombe (Wycombe scorer: Tony Hemmings (2))

Last meeting: 18/02/2012 (League One): Walsall 2-0 Wycombe

Last Wycombe win: 21/10/2000 (League One): Wycombe 3-1 Walsall (Wycombe scorers: Michael Simpson, Andy Rammell (2))

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