AVID Walsall fan Matt Vale (@MattDVale) previews the Saddlers’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final fixture against Bristol City on Sunday, with a little help from Robins supporter Kelvin Burt (@krburt).
Bristol City v Walsall | Sunday 15.30 | Sky Sport 3
Wembley Stadium opened in 1923 and Bolton and West Ham supporters waited just a few days before making their debut at the brand new stadium. In the intervening 92 years, Stock Car Racing, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Genesis have all appeared at the famous stadium yet Walsall Football Club have remained permanent fixtures in Wembley’s waiting room, exchanging polite small talk with Hartlepool, Crawley and Accrington: the three other teams from the Football League without a Wembley appearance to their name.
That is, until Sunday.
Some might scoff at the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy but it’s the perfect backdrop for a glorious day out. No painful play-off final defeat to take the shine off. No 90 minutes of stressful, heart in the mouth football. No pressure whatsoever. After all, no-one has ever been genuinely distraught at losing in the final of the Football League Trophy.
Ever since we (Walsall) breezed past Preston North End in the Northern Area final and booked our place under the arch, it’s all been a little surreal. Suddenly the players’ stories were becoming known all over the country. James and Adam Chambers are actual TWINS, Andy Taylor missed a penalty last time he went to Wembley and our cup final song went to #33 on iTunes. Even Elton John; desperate to sell tickets for his upcoming concert at the Banks’s Stadium, sent us a message of good luck.
People were actually queuing through the night for Walsall tickets. I’ve never once had to queue or been quite so excited for a Walsall ticket in my life but all of a sudden I’m like Charlie bloody Bucket. 30,000 Walsall supporters will descend on Wembley Way and 25,000 won’t even know the name of our left-back. But hey, now’s not the time to be cynical.
Now is the time to marvel at a convoy of coaches, cars and vans streaming down the M1. Each and every one waving at least one Walsall scarf or flag. It’s the time for our fans to arrive in central London and wander around aimlessly, miles away from Wembley, proudly wearing their colours and stopping to take selfies in the most inconvenient of places. It’s time to talk to people on the tube in an incomprehensible Black Country accent and to stand unwittingly on the left-hand side of escalators.
Walsall’s teenage fans are more used to downing £1 pints and going to dodgy night clubs with two-for-one offers on Blue WKD and fights in the car park. This weekend it’s time for oyster cards, £5 bottles of lager and £8 pies.
For me, wanting to see us at Wembley is a matter of pride and fulfilment. It’s for the players, the staff, the chap who has run the supporters club coaches for as long as I can remember and for the folk in the programme shop and ticket office. And for the supporters. We’ve had 92 years to imagine how great it must be to watch our team at Wembley and now, thrillingly, we’re about to find out.
After all, you’d have got good odds that, in 2015, Elton John would play at Walsall and Walsall would play at Wembley. It’s going to be great.
*Enough nonsense; just give us your tips*
Bristol City are favourites for this one and perhaps at 10/11 they are not quite as short as many would expect. They’re top of the league, have the best defence and second best attack in League One and have lost only two of their last 17 league games.
Walsall on the other hand are consistently inconsistent. One win in eight tells its own story but it’s our performances against the top-half teams which are the focus here. Our record against the top-12 is P-19-W8-D7-L4; testament that our better performances come when good teams are open and expansive against us and look to win the game.
Bristol City will look to set the attacking tempo on Sunday and we’ll hopefully defend well and be lively on the break. It’s worked wonders at times this season, no more so when beating MK Dons 3-0 away from home, and is why I fancy us to take the game into extra time; at least.
We’ve drawn 1-1 against Bristol City already this season, and against MK Dons and Sheffield United (twice) and that will my bet this weekend. It’s available at 6/1 with BetVictor.
Some of you might really fancy the Robins in this one so I asked one of Twitter’s finest City supporters, Kelvin Burt (@krburt) for his opinion:
“I hope Bristol City will nick a tight match. 85% of goals are generally scored inside the box and Bristol City have had 245 shots from inside the box whereas Walsall have managed just 168. In fact, only 45% of Walsall shots this season have been from inside the box which partially explains their struggle for goals.
With 76% of Bristol City wins coming by a one or two-goal margin, Bristol City to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 is 13/8 with BetVictor.”
Kelvin certainly knows his onions and I certainly wouldn’t put you off that bet so we’ll add it to our selections. Oh, and if it is 1-1; we’ll obviously be winning in extra time or on penalties. After all, we’ve never lost at Wembley.