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A solid start to the season has seen Walsall firmly nestled in the fledgling playoff places. It’s early days yet but it’s looking positive for the West Midlands outfit. BillytheBee chats the the lads from Walsall independent website Bescot Banter about Million pound strikers, ‘dodgy’ chairmen and managers on the wine.

Walsall have had a decent start considering they had some of their decent players plundered in the close season

Our opening League One game saw us play host to Tranmere Rovers. Overall, I think everybody has to be wholeheartedly impressed with that performance. Goals for both of the strikers and a great performance from the whole team. We were particularly impressed with the wingers who played their hearts out from start to finish, especially Hemmings. However, as he got awarded sponsor’s ‘man of the match’, I will use vote to acknowledge Mal Benning who was outstanding both at the back and coming forward in the game.

The following Saturday saw The Saddlers visit Boundary Park to play Oldham Athletic. Overall it was pleasing just to see our winning streak continue, regardless of the performance. And with our best start to a season since Richard Money’s championship winning season, who knows what this season may hold.

Finally, onto last weekend, which saw us taking on Notts County. On the whole, this was still a good point for the Saddlers, and a good first point of the campaign for County. Romaine Sawyers looks like a great young prospect – his composed finish hopefully the first of many. Walsall were certainly guilty of not talking their chances, but fans wont be too disappointed by this game, albeit slightly hard to watch at times. With Dean Smith’s side sitting in 4th position in the league, there is a still lot of positivity amongst players and fans alike.

Despite losing three ‘marquee’ players in Jamie Paterson, Febian Brandy, and Will Grigg, the core of the squad has remained; including Adam Chambers, Andy Butler, James Baxendale and others, this gives the squad some familiarity and has helped the new faces fit in quicker.

How was Grigg for you? We hear mixed messages from Walsall fans and we’re not sure if it’s just a case of reasonably tough fromage.

Will Grigg is a strong striker who, over the years, had developed the ability to bring the midfielders into the game. Sadly Will didn’t have the greatest scoring record, although last season was his first as the top marksman for the club which saw him notch twenty goals.

Will has seen his share of setbacks. Whilst with the Birmingham City academy, he suffered a broken leg aged 15 and, following a year out of the game, was released just two months after returning to the club.

After that putting that behind him and regaining fitness, Will joined non-League side Stratford Town on non-contract terms and after some impressive performances was lining up a trial with West Bromwich Albion. Following contact from then Walsall Head of Youth Development Mick Halsall he joined The Saddlers on a scholarship, and after a stint with the Centre of Excellence, Will signed professional terms in 2008, making his club debut in December of the same year.

Personally, I have no real issues with Will. Unfortunately for us, he was out-of-contract and was free to move. Many supporters see the transfer as something of a sideward step, however only time will tell. If the current squad investment continues at Brentford I can only see it as a positive (for Will).

One issue many supporters and the club have is over the planned tribunal and the fact that, despite any fee is yet to be paid, Will is free to play against Walsall this weekend. I understand both clubs have been negotiating over the transfer amount, however the discussions ended without agreement. The tribunal is set to take place during the last week of the month.

When Grigg left your manager Dean Smith said “I would like to wish him luck .. But I can’t”. Bees fans thought that was a bit spiteful and unprofessional .. But at the same time some secretly admired him for his honesty. What do you think?

Smith had spent many months negotiating with Will and his agent and I suspect much of his comments were born out of frustration. The club and many supporters simply feel let down by the player and his representatives.

Will had several barren years with the club, yet he continued to be offered new deals and was frequently given games. Last season was the striker’s first as a real goal threat. It was a season where everything seemed to finally fall into place. A season where Will and the club could truly progress…only for the striker to reject a new four-year deal in favour of a switch to Griffin Park (ED. we suspect if, a la Harry Forrester, negotiations had taken place before the final year of his contract season had started, the club may have had a better chance of keeping him).

Smith said he hopes Walsall get £1m for Grigg. Was he on the wine before the interview?

The club firmly believe Will is worth £1m+ to them. A full international striker who has spent many years training and learning with the club following his release by Birmingham City.

We also must look at the cost to replace such a player. It’s unlikely the club could find a like-for-like replacement for the kind of money they’re seeking

You didnt only lose Grigg but you also lost his striking partner Brandy. Who was bought in to replace them? And other additions to the side in close season?

Manager Dean Smith was at pains to ensure that, despite the departures, the club kept the core players (Captain Andy Butler and midfield man Adam Chambers). He has made relatively few additions to the squad, choosing instead to simply fill key positions, i.e.; goalkeeping and attacking.

IN: Troy Hewitt (forward: QPR, Free), Richard O’Donnell (keeper: Chesterfield, Free), Romaine Sawyers (midfielder: West Brom, Free), Shane Lewis (goalkeeper: West Brom, Free), James McQuilkin (midfielder: Hereford, Free), Milan Lalkovic (forward: Chelsea, Loan).

Last season you finished strong but petered off towards the end. What was the formula for your success? What caused you to fall-off?

A major part in last season’s success was assistant manager Richard O’Kelly, whose tactical knowledge and coaching ability have been nothing but a positive for the club. Richard was also on hand for transfer advice, which saw the acquisition of several fairly unknowns who have turned into first-teamers including, amongst others, Richard Purkiss, James Baxendale, and Nicky Featherstone.

The fall-off was simply fatigue – putting together an unbeaten run after a sixteen-game winless streak took its toll on the team.

You were looking at a clean sweep – 9pts in 3 games – before Arquin came off the bench to equalise for Notts County on Saturday. Was that disappointing or a fair result overall?

The result was probably a fair one, we desperately missed Milan Lalkovic, who had picked up a knock on international duty. The performance was relatively poor. However, if you can continue to pick up points on bad performances then there’s little to complain about.

You seem to have a nice problem in that you have Westcarr, Lalkovic or Sawyers to choose from up front. What pairing works for you?

We tend operate a 4-4-1-1 formation which sees a sort of roaming playmaker behind the front-man, this allows the midfield four to become five during defensive situations.

Currently Craig Westcarr is our chosen forward, I’d like to see new signing Troy Hewitt given a start as he is very pacy and should link up well with Lalkovic.

Walsall isn’t traditionally known as a buying team. They will get decent cash for Brandy and Grigg. How do you think they’ll spend it?

The money is more likely be invested in infrastructure than players. Our Centre of Excellence will see some of it, whilst some will go to pay debt. In the current financial climate, this may be the best use of resources.

All football clubs seem to have their fare share of dodgy owners, backhand business, lack of solid investment tales and shenanigans. I’m sure Walsall is the same. Pray tell.

The main issue this summer has been the recent departures, and how (and if) the money received should be spent. Many supporters would like investment in the playing staff, it’s been many-a-year since Walsall have paid a fee for a player.

Along with those issues are the now usual, ownership quarrels, many supporters would like to see the back of current owner Jeff Bonser.

How will Walsall fare against Brentford? Who are the players to look out for?

The Saddlers have developed a patient, passing game, dubbed ‘sexy football’ by some of the supporters. Players to look out for include Chelsea loanee Milan Lalkovic, who has pace to burn, along with winger James Baxendale, who has recently signed a new three-year deal,

In terms of head-to-head, Brentford hold the advantage with 33 wins to 23, with both sides so far unbeaten I’d expect a draw but hope for a victory.

How do you see Walsall doing this season?

After last season’s heroics, it’d be easy to expect a similar season, however with the aforementioned departures, we’d be silly to expect that.

As with last season, I’d hope for a top half/mid table finish but wouldn’t be surprised if we threatened the play-offs once again. The main thing to hope for is progression, as long as the squad continues to improve, in terms of ability and results

Who do you feel will be challenging this season? Any dark horses?

I’d expect Wolverhampton Wanderers to be at the top by the end of the season, along with Sheffield United, Peterborough United and Bristol City, who have spent very well during pre-season.

The play-off places will be keenly contested this season. It could literally be anyone’s to win this season, we have such a strong league. No club is guaranteed anything at this stage, put a good run together and anything could happen, just look at Yeovil…

It’s a little early to peg anyone as a ‘dark horse’, however there are several clubs who always seem just one step away from making it. With all the talent they produce, Crewe Alexandra really should be higher up the pyramid, if they could just keep hold of a few of their star players, I can see them chasing promotion.

As Brentford prepare to move from a Griffin Park to Lionel Road (assuming we get planning permission), you have experienced the move from Fellows Park to the Bescot. Do you miss Fellows Park?

In terms of atmosphere, Fellows Park is hard to beat. However, the stadium was outdated and had been without any real improvement for many years due to a combination of issues, including financial strife and dodgy chairmen.

Fellows Park was sold to Morrison’s for £5.75 million in the late 80’s. The fairly characterless Bescot Stadium, which was planned and built for £4.5 million, was opened by Sir Stanley Matthews in 1990 and was met with distain by many supporters, due to the lack of cantilever stands and the originally promised under-soil heating (amongst many other issues).

The positives of a modern stadium will be commercial opportunities which lend themselves to the facility, with the addition of bars, restaurants, conference rooms and alike that will attract paying customers on a regular basis.

The obvious negatives are the lack of character and history which you often get with older grounds, All supporters will have memories of being on the stands watching their beloved team ply their trade. It’s not always the same in a new, surgically-clean ground.

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