Spireites column: Walsall saddled with all the pressure
You could forgive Walsall for not being overly keen to visit the Proact on Saturday.
Not only are the Saddlers a side in freefall, with no wins in their last six outings, but they’re in managerial upheaval yet again.
They’ll be travelling to face one of the form teams in League One – Chesterfield unbeaten in five, with two recent wins over top 10 outfits.
And Walsall have failed to come out on top in 300 minutes of football against Spireites, only besting them on spot-kicks in an FA Cup replay.
It has been a turbulent week for the Saddlers, since their 3-1 defeat at home to fellow play-off hopefuls Barnsley on Saturday.
Sean O’Driscoll, whose tenure as Walsall boss lasted a mere 16 games, was fired on Sunday.
And he has been replaced, in a caretaker capacity, by Jon Whitney, Neil Cutler and John Ward.
That trio was also in charge when Walsall took on Chesterfield in a pair of FA Cup second round fixtures in December.
But when the clubs began their hostilities for the season, on 17th October, Dean Saunders was the Spireites manager and Dean Smith his opposite number at Walsall.
In somewhat of a shock result, Saunders’ men were 2-1 victors and knocked their hosts off top spot in League One.
Come 5th December when they met again, in the FA Cup, it was all change.
Saunders had been sacked, and Smith pinched by Championship side Brentford.
So it was the clash of the caretakers, Mark Smith leading Chesterfield into the game against Whitney, Cutler and Ward’s Walsall.
And all parties were reasonably happy at 5pm, Chesterfield coming from behind to draw 1-1 and secure a replay 10 days later.
No goals were scored in 120 minutes of football at the Bescot Stadium, before Spireites went out of the cup on penalties.
Since then, Danny Wilson has taken over at the Proact, and especially of late, inspired a more confident Chesterfield side to some impressive results.
And at the Bescot, O’Driscoll has been appointed, and subsequently fired.
Approaching this weekend, Walsall fans might be wondering if the caretaker effect can apply twice in one season.
Chesterfield fans will be quietly confident.
It’s another ‘free swing’ for Spireites – they aren’t expected to turn over the teams at the other end of the table.
Indeed that’s the beauty of Danny Wilson’s approach to games.
In his Thursday press briefings he’s quick to take the pressure off his own team, regardless of the league position or form of the looming opposition.
No game has been described as ‘must win’ or ‘make or break’.
He hasn’t once suggested that a match is one Spireites are targetting as vital to their survival.
Against teams below them in the table, Wilson reminds everyone that anyone can beat anyone.
And when the top sides are providing the oppositionest, he simply reiterates that there isn’t much between the top and the bottom, that Chesterfield can give anyone a game.
In his eyes, or at least in the words he chooses to use in public, Spireites are neither favourite nor underdog.
They’re confident, not cocky, realistic not downbeat.
Every point is up for grabs, nothing is a given.
There’s no need for panic, but the relegation battle is talked about freely.
If anything was going to ease the burden on the playing staff, it was this low key approach in the media.
Take the hype and the rhetoric out of games, let the football do the talking.
And apparently, the mental weakness that led to so many points dropped at home from winning positions, isn’t such a millstone around the neck.
Chesterfield are easing themselves to safety, while Walsall cling to automatic promotion hopes.
No one would choose to be in the former’s shoes over the latter, but as things stand, Walsall are saddled with all the pressure.