Robins can cap a perfect season at Wembley
Wembley appearances are as rare as the politician who answers a question for most lower league clubs but Walsall fans have had to wait longer than most to see their team walk out at the national stadium.
But that 127-year wait is finally over this weekend as the Saddlers face Bristol City in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.
They’ve been going cup final crazy in the west Midlands – the team has even put out the obligatory cup final single, though it’s yet to break into the top 40.
There will be more than 27,000 Walsall fans making the trip down to Wembley and that particular area of north London will be a sea of red and white on Sunday – opponents the Robins play in the same colours – but the odds look stacked against Dean Smith’s team returning home with the trophy.
The manager may have to give late fitness tests to Tom Bradshaw and Andy Taylor.
Bradshaw, the Saddlers’ top scorer, scored his side’s second goal in the crucial semi-final, first-leg victory at Preston but has missed several matches this season with a long-standing hamstring injury and was rested for Walsall’s home draw with Sheffield United during the week.
Left-back Taylor has a calf injury but will be keen to make amends for his only previous Wembley appearance which saw him play barely a minute as a substitute and miss from the spot in a penalty shoot-out.
But on-loan Manchester City striker Jordy Hiwula has been given permission to play by his parent club and he’ll be hopeful of making an impact.
Defender Jimmy O’Connor has happy memories of Wembley as he was part of the Doncaster team that won the League One play-off final in 2008.
This match has clearly been on Walsall minds over the last few weeks but a Wembley date hasn’t shaken Bristol City out of their stride and league form demands that the Robins are hot favourites at 3/4 to win the JPT Final in 90 minutes.
The return to fitness of Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard came at just the right time for Steve Cottrell’s men, who are now running away with the League One title.
They have quality back up in the shape of former Arsenal youngster Jay-Emmanuel Thomas and a robust defence, though the teams did play out a 1-1 at the Banks’ Stadium back in the autumn.
The Robins are fancied to score exactly two goals at 12/5.
The match kicks off at 3.30pm on Sunday, March 22 at Wembley Stadium.