Our kind chums over at One Pod Beyond have once again given us their time to supply this week's answers - you can also read their thoughts on new Reading signing and former Walsall loanee George Evans here.
It's been nearly 13 years since we locked horns in a League game, what's life for a Walsall fan been like over the last decade or so?
Apart from the endless trophy-laden success and glittering European nights, you mean? Well, we actually did win a trophy ten years or so ago. After Paul Merson's spectacularly inept tenure as manager led to relegation from League One in 2006 we bounced straight back as League Two champions the following season. We looked set for another good campaign but sold half our defence (including a young Scott Dann) in January and the season descended into acrimonious finger pointing with manager Richard Money resigning when it became clear the play-offs were out of reach. Subsequent hot seat-occupiers Jimmy Mullen and Chris Hutchings frittered away most of the good work done by Money and when Dean Smith took over five years ago we were rock bottom of League One and looked nailed-on relegation certs.
Smith pulled off a deeply unlikely escape that season but what happened next was even more remarkable - the club made a conscious decision to transform its entire philosophy from top to bottom. Following Crewe's blueprint, the idea is to implement the same style of football throughout the club, producing young players who can be sold on, thereby making Walsall a more attractive choice to youngsters (and their parents) put off by the lack of opportunities at more high profile local clubs. As with any big structural change it didn't bring instance success but after two seasons at the wrong end of the table Smith delivered three midtable finishes in a row on one of the lowest budgets in the league and this season crafted a team that are genuine promotion challengers.
At this point I should say that another important factor in Walsall's philosophy was the patience that both the board and fans showed Smith. Because there's no doubt that he presided over some spectacularly poor runs of form. So bad in fact that most other clubs would have dispensed with his services and drafted someone else in. And how did Smith repay this almost unique loyalty? He renegotiated his contract as soon as Championship clubs started sniffing around and left for Brentford a few weeks later. Still, it doesn't seem to have affected us that much. Sean O'Driscoll was my number one choice to replace him and it's been a seamless transition so far. O'Driscoll not only shares the club's commitment to playing the right way but he is also spectacularly dour which I wholeheartedly approve of.
From a Reading perspective, any mention of Walsall invariably comes with a groan due to the 2001 Play-Off Final, how do you remember that game?
Funnily enough my memories are probably exactly the same as yours, in that I was really enjoying the game right up until Darren Byfield scored. Everything after that (pretty much until the final whistle) was absolutely horrible. You have to understand that Walsall aren't supposed to win games like that so I was utterly convinced that Martin Butler would equalise and you would win on penalties. If I could have left after Byfield scored I would have done but obviously I stayed and watched the rest of the match through my fingers and everything turned out alright in the end. Also, if ever I'm sad I dig out my video of the game and slo-mo the bit where the ball goes in off Tony Rougier's face. Instant happy!
This season you're on a great run and are closing in on the top two in League One, are you confident of a return to the Championship?
See my previous answer. Walsall aren't supposed to trouble the top six in League One never mind the top two so I am deeply suspicious of this season. Don't get me wrong, when we're on form we'll give anyone a game (as Forest, Brighton and Brentford (lol) have already discovered this season) but I can't help thinking that if you start describing yourself as "confi***t" then you've only got yourself to blame when disaster strikes.
What about the FA Cup, is it a competition you've been taking seriously this season?
Yes. I think most clubs our size have to take the FA Cup seriously because a) it can be quite lucrative and b) IT'S THE FLIPPING FA CUP YOU JOYLESS PREMIER LEAGUE OBSESSED WEIRDOS.*
*That's a general comment on how far the Cup's stock has fallen by the way, not a pop at Reading.
Which Walsall player should we be worried about on Saturday?
Crikey, how long have you got? Let's start with the Holy Trinity: Tom Bradshaw, Rico Henry and Romaine Sawyers. Bradshaw is our goalscorer, a natural finisher who holds the ball up well despite not being huge and has a goalscoring rate of one every two games. Also has nice hair and an even nicer mum (hi Sally!). Tom is coveted by big clubs.
Rico Henry is an 18-year old left wing back/left winger who is probably our most exciting youth product since the aforementioned Mr Dann. Seriously though, this kid is unbelievably good. Already an England Under-19 international he's been linked with moves to a host of top Premier League clubs and Aston Villa. A future England regular.
"Romaine Sawyers is smooth like chocolate" according to Ian Holloway and who are we to argue? Languid, elegant and with a wand of a right foot, Sawyers is talked up by many as the best player in League One (although Bradley Dack would be grumpy if you said that). He's a classic ball-playing number 10 with unbelievable vision and touch, so much so that he often plays in a smoking jacket and fez. Currently running his contract down ahead of a move to someone in the Championship in the Summer. We're not angry though, we're just glad he's here.
Other players to watch:
Adam Chambers: Defensive midfielder. Now about 46 years of age but runs around like a Springer Spaniel. A Springer Spaniel with a beard! Please boo him when he kicks your players - he loves it!
Jason Demetriou: Right back (Marauding).
James O'Connor: the Brummie Cannavaro.
James Baxendale: although you'll need to get yourself along to Crawley if you want to see him tomorrow because he's on loan at Mansfield at the moment.
Any Reading player you're not looking forward to facing?
As ever, Jamie Cureton has to be a danger..... Interested to see how (and where) Robson-Kanu plays given that he is currently keeping Tom Bradshaw out of the Welsh side despite not ever seemingly worrying the old onion bag!
1-1. Bradshaw for us, Cureton for you.
Thanks again to the chaps from One Pod Beyond who you can follow on Twitter @OnePodBeyond