IT IS now or never for Dean Smith and Walsall.
Time is running out for Smith, a former Sheffield Wednesday captain, to steer the Saddlers away from the League One drop zone.
Walsall host the Owls at the Banks’s Stadium on Saturday looking to bounce back after a 3-1 reversal to champions Brighton and Hove Albion.
West Bromwich-born Smith, who was appointed Walsall boss on a permanent basis in January following a caretaker stint in charge, beat off 90 other candidates to land the post. He has lifted the club off the bottom of the table, winning six, drawing eight and losing seven of his 21 matches.
Nonetheless, the Saddlers remain in deep trouble with four matches remaining and slipped back into the bottom four after Notts County’s 1-0 success at Tranmere Rovers in midweek. County’s result leaves Walsall one point adrift of safety and Smith’s men have an inferior goal difference to Dagenham and Redbridge and County, who are directly above them in the table.
Now Walsall face a season-defining Easter double header against Wednesday and Oldham Athletic, knowing a positive points return is essential if they are to pull off the great escape.
Smith, one of 13 players released by Owls boss Chris Turner in 2004 after the club suffered relegation into the third tier, is refusing to set his Walsall players a points target as he looks to secure his long-term future at the club.
He said: “I’ve never set myself a points target because it changes week to week and you can end up with egg on your face.
“I said Plymouth losing 10 points would change the points tally to stop up and I just think you have to work game to game.”
Lanky centre-back Clayton McDonald has been ruled out for the remainder of Walsall’s relegation battle after he dislocated his shoulder against table-topping Brighton. McDonald will go under the knife to cure the problem and joins Aaron Lescott (knee) on the injury list.
Andy Butler, who scored against the Seagulls last weekend, is confident Walsall can return to winning ways against Wednesday despite the loss of McDonald.
“Sheffield Wednesday will be well supported, but we have nothing to fear as we know that if we reach the standards we are capable of, we will give ourselves every chance of taking maximum points,” said Butler.
“Every game will be a battle now and it is vital that we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and kick on.”
Smith recognises the Easter programme holds the key to Walsall’s survival hopes.
He said: “The Easter weekend, when it comes late, is always a big one and it’s bigger for us this season.
“It would be horrifying not to pick up any points and wonderful to pick up six points – there are two extremes.”
Meanwhile, Tommy Spurr, Mark Reynolds and Liam Palmer were all given run outs in Wednesday reserves’ 1-1 draw with Port Vale on Tuesday. Trialist James Gray caught the eye up front. He partnered youngster Mitch Husbands and scored the opener. Another trialist, Marco Perazzo, also featured but he was taken off at half-time after picking up a knock.