WALSALL defender Andy Butler has played under some famous managers - but he says that former Owls captain Dean Smith is one of the best.
The ex-Hillsborough centre half’s reign at the Bescot Stadium has come under the spotlight with the Saddlers struggling again in League One after he saved them from relegation last season.
But Butler compares Smith favourably with Brian Laws (ex-Wednesday), Nigel Adkins (Southampton), Lee Clark (Huddersfield) and Ian Holloway (Blackpool).
“From a personal point of view, the gaffer is one of the best, in how he goes about things and approaches the players,” said the experienced Walsall centre-half, as his club prepare for the Boxing Day visit of the Owls.
“He’s a young manager and things are going to come good for him,” added Butler. “He’s going to learn his trade and he’s going to learn from his mistakes. The second half of the season is a big part for us.
“We’ve got a good staff and they all have their input.”
Smith, aged 40, made 62 appearances for the Owls after turning down a new deal at Leyton Orient to join them in February, 2003.
He was one of 13 players released by Wednesday after the club were relegated in 2004.
The defender then played for a short spell at Port Vale, became youth coach then assistant manager at Orient, and manager of the Saddlers after Chris Hutchings was axed last January. An escape from the drop was completed on the final day of the season.
Butler refuses to be burdened by the club’s present position of fourth from bottom.
“We’re not talking about relegation – there are still 20-odd games to go. People might look at last year but we’re in a much better position, that’s what people have got to realise,” he said.
“We’re a learning team and we’re going to start learning. You are always training and you learn from your mistakes. We’ve got to put those mistakes right. We have a solid team and need to push on now.”
Walsall were 1-0 up at Chesterfield last Saturday but conceded an equaliser by Jack Lester in the last minute.
Smith’s side also led 2-0 at Sheffield United in August but lost 3-2.
Butler’s fellow defender, Lee Beevers, said: “I don’t think it is easier to play away. We are just getting on with it and we seem to be turning out good results. Away from home there’s no pressure on us to go and take the game to them. The home team’s under pressure to take the win, which is what it’s like for us.
“We need to take our away form into our home form and just keep it going.
“It wasn’t our tactic to sit deeper (against Chesterfield) in the second half at all. It was just the way the game went.”
But life is sweeter for Owls midfield player Chris Lines, who took a step up by moving to Hillsborough from Bristol Rovers, for £50,000.
“I’m really loving my football at the moment,” said Lines. “To be honest, it’s the most I’ve enjoyed it in my career.
“We are second in the league. I’m playing at a club with great support, and they are a grest bunch of lads in the squad. I’ve made some good mates and I’m throughly enjoying it.”
Lines relishes the prospect of the game at Walsall on Boxing Day, the trip to Preston on New Year’s Eve and the January 2 visit of Tranmere. Then will come the appealing FA Cup third-round tie against West Ham at Hillsborough on Sunday, January 8.
He says: “Christmas is always the busiest time when you’re a footballer.
“You don’t get a lot of time off and there are a lot games, so you’ve got to be prepared and make sure you live right. All the lads are really looking forward to the Christmas period, It’s a great time to pick up points.”
Teams and ref
SADDLERS (possible): Walker; Westlake or Beevers, Butler, Smith, Sadler; Nicholls, Chambers, Peterlin, Paterson; Macken, Grigg (4-4-2).
OWLS (possible), Weaver or O’Donnell; Tavernier, Batth, R Jones, R Johnson; Prutton, Lines, Semedo, Marshall; O’Grady, Watt or Lowe. (4-4-2).
David Coote (Nottingham): Handled the Owls’ 1-0 win at Carlisle in February. This season he has issued 50 yellow cards and four reds in 17 games.