Walsall fans will be eagerly waiting to see what new players are brought in for next season’s League One campaign after manager Chris Hutchings’ minor clear-out began this week.
He has released only three first team men from the squad who finished in the bottom half of the table, the biggest names being top-scorer Michael Ricketts and midfield skipper Stephen Hughes.
Left-back Paul Boertien has also gone, along with young reserve midfielder Hassan Bacchus.
New contract offers have been made to giant goalkeeper Clayton Ince, voted player-of-the-season, hard-working striker Jabo Ibehre, defenders Manny Smith and Netan Sansara, teenage midfielder Richard Davies, play-anywhere Chris Palmer, winger Sofiene Zaaboub and reserve keeper Rene Gilmartin.
Players not mentioned are already on contracts for the coming season.
The new deals were put on the table when Hutchings met the players on Monday, following their third successive home defeat by Oldham Athletic, and some of the men may well hang on before committing themselves to the Saddlers just in case any other clubs come in with something better.
The manager said: “I would like to thank Stephen, Michael, Paul and Hassan for their efforts during the season and wish them the very best in the future.”
Although he finished as leading scorer with 12 goals, Ricketts had a disciplinary problem, collecting three red cards, the latest of which saw him suspended for five games. He made only 31 appearances.
People wondering whether to buy a season ticket or even renew the old one will no doubt be waiting to see what steps Hutchings takes during the summer to bring in new faces and provide more entertainment at Bescot.
Ten home defeats and booted out of three cup competitions at home proves beyond a shadow of doubt that new faces are needed in all departments of the team, even though the budget will be tighter than ever.
Statistics can’t lie, and they appear to emphasise the current players simply have not been good enough.
In the 22 games league games before he was sacked, former manager Jimmy Mullen oversaw nine wins, three draws and ten defeats - 30 points.
And since he took over, new boss Hutchings’ record from 22 games reads: eight wins, six draws and eight defeats - 30 points.
With clubs having to cut back on expenses in view of the recession, there should be plenty of players on the market in the summer, and it will be interesting to see how Hutchings and his assistant, Martin O’Connor, use their contacts in the game to build their team rather than having to cope with the one they inherited in January.
Walsall had a reasonable away record, with seven wins and seven draws, otherwise they would have been in the thick of a relegation scrap.
They seemed better equipped to play away from home and hit teams on the break. At Bescot, where they had to take the game to the opposition, they
often looked desperately short of ideas and woefully short of craft in midfield. Far too many hopeful balls were hammered upfield for the strikers to chase.
Supporters are also wondering whether Jeff Bonser will find a suitable new owner to sell the club to before the new season arrives.
The fans are entitled to be ambitious and expect the Saddlers to be able to compete in promotion races at what is only the third level of English soccer. They are tired of past managers covering their backs by suggesting the team is punching above its weight.
It’s that attitude, excusing failure if you like, that has driven many supporters away from Bescot. I’m sure they would return if they could witness some genuine desire to build a successful team.
They were always promised that once all the commercial enterprises were in place, it would be reflected on the pitch. Well, with a successful Sunday market, banqueting rooms, conference facilities etc etc, Walsall FC is far better off than many of their rivals. And full credit to the people running the club for that.
No-one wants to see them spending themselves into administration, a fate suffered by a growing number of clubs. But they must show more ambition for success where it matters to the fans....on the pitch.
*Walsall have already arranged some attractive pre-season friendlies. They meet old rivals Rotherham United, managed by former Saddler Mark Robins, at the Don Valley Stadium on Saturday, July 18. Newly-promoted Wolves come to the Banks’s Stadium on Tuesday, July 21 (7.45pm) followed by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, July 25 (3pm).