Walsall’s record-breaking run of 18 league and cup matches without defeat came to an end in the third round FA Cup replay at Millwall, but their unexpected second successive promotion campaign is still very much alive.
They are still unbeaten in 14 League One matches and face a tough test to keep that going when they visit another improving side, Bristol Rovers, at the Memorial Ground tomorrow (weather permitting).
It’s unfortunate that just at a time when the team were doing so well, outstanding left-back Daniel Fox decided to put in a transfer request, and at the time of writing he was still trying to a agree personal terms with Championship strugglers Colchester United.
The clubs had settled a fee, believed to be in the region of £350,000, and supporters will be hoping manager Richard Money is give at least some of that cash to strengthen the squad so that the great work of the past four months is not wasted.
Such a shame the excellent back four has been disrupted. They have kept so many clean sheets, but in the last two matches without Fox they have shipped four goals, dropping two precious home points in the 2-2 draw with Swindon on Saturday, then losing 2-1 at Millwall.
On Tuesday, however, there was some good news because long-term injury absentee Paul Boertien, a left-back, made his first appearance since, ironically, being hurt in the league match against Millwall in September. He went on as a second half sub, as did former skipper and midfield battler Michael Dobson.
No-one can blame Fox for being ambitious, though I’m sure Walsall fans would prefer to have seen him join a bigger club than Colchester if he had to go. He has been magnificent in the past couple of months, and Leeds United made an unsuccessful bid to sign him.
Mind you, Leeds have already inflicted some damage on the Saddlers by signing midfielder Peter Sweeney from Stoke City while he was doing so well on loan at Bescot. Sweeney created United’s winner at Crewe in midweek.
After the home draw with Swindon I asked Richard Money if he would be able to spend some of the Fox cash - when it arrives - on team strengthening, and he replied: “We would have looked to strengthen even if Fox was still here because we are in the mix (for promotion) and want to stay in there.
“I don’t want anyone to suddenly get ideas of grandeur that we are going to spend big transfer fees on players, because it’s not going to happen. This club is not about that.”
Walsall have, of course, signed wingers Martin Brittain on a short contract and also taken Derby County’s clever young winger Lee Holmes on loan to the end of the season from Derby County.
Holmes made an encouraging debut against Swindon, but was not eligible for the cup replay at Millwall.
Both will be in the squad at the Memorial Ground tomorrow when the Saddlers will need to be at their best to keep their unbeaten league run going against a strong Bristol Rovers team who were able to have a rest on Tuesday because their cup replay with Fulham was postponed.
The Memorial Ground pitch, so often affected by rugby matches, was waterlogged, and it could be a bit of a quagmire tomorrow of the weather forecasts prove correct.
The Pirates are in the bottom half of the table but showed in their cup draw at Premiership Fulham that they are becoming a force to be reckoned with. And last Friday they pulled off a fine 2-0 league win at Tranmere.
The Walsall team at Bristol will be selected from: Ince, Weston, Gerrard, Dann, Taundry, Sonko, Bradley, Wrack, Holmes, Ricketts, Nicholls, Deeney, Demontagnac, Brittain, Boertien, Dobson, Roper, Bossu.
l Promising teenager Richard Taundry, who has become an important member of the first team squad, has signed a new contract to the end of 2010. Winger Paul Hall has joined League Two strugglers Wrexham where he has joined former Bescot team-mate Danny Sonner.
l I understand Walsall are to receive £25,000 from a Coca Cola Zero initiative. It must be used for youth development.
l Edrissa Sonko, scorer of both goals in the draw with Swindon, was named in the League One team of the week.