Walsall FC have secured a trip to Wembley for the first time in their 127-year history.
The Saddlers have reached the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final after overcoming Preston North End 2-0 over two legs.
The 0-0 draw at the Banks’s Stadium last night ensured Walsall’s passage to Wembley. It will go down as the best 0-0s for two Walsall fans who couldn’t contain their celebrations as they charged onto the field to celebrate with their heroes.
A huge amount of credit has to go to manager Dean Smith. When he took over in January 2011, Walsall were rock bottom of League one, nine points a drift of safety. They had just 17 points from 21 games and looked destined for relegation.
Smith managed to keep them up with a change of style and clever use of the loan market. One of his first achievements as Walsall manager was recording their best league result in 25 years when they beat Bristol Rovers 6-1.
He kept them up again on a shoestring budget in the 2011-12 season. Again he used the loan and free transfer market cleverly and promoted a lot of youth team players. This was the year that saw Jamie Paterson and Will Grigg play for the first team.
The next season is where Walsall came into their own. Their style of play hadn’t gone un-noticed. They play neat passing football. Keeping the ball on the ground with nice one-two’s and interchanges. In the 2012-13.
Dean Smith added more young talent in Paul Downing, James Baxendale and Febian Brandy. He also brought in Craig Westcarr. All of a sudden Walsall had an exciting young squad capable of challenging for the play offs all for the cost of £0.
When March came around Walsall were right up there but just missed out and finished ninth. Their highest finish for nearly a decade. Dean Smith had turned Walsall from relegation candidates to play off chasers.
They challenged again the next season despite losing Brandy, Grigg and Paterson to other clubs. Though they again fell at the final hurdle and slipped to 13th.
That is where Walsall are now. They may be 15th but they are only 4 points off a play off place and they’re off to Wembley.
That club you can see from the M6 motorway is all of a sudden on the cusp of winning a trophy at Wembley and who knows, they may even return there in May.
But for now Walsall fans, savour the moment. The 127 year wait is finally over. Dean Smith is a fantastic manager and with finances improving the future looks bright for The Saddlers.