SADDLERS boss, Dean Smith, is anticipating a stern test against Championship high-flyers Brighton in the Capital One Cup second round this evening.
Both sides have made identical starts to their league campaigns – winning three and drawing one of their opening four fixtures – and are each placed second in their respective divisions.
Walsall are targeting their second Championship scalp after a thrilling 4-3 victory at Nottingham Forest in round one, courtesy of Tom Bradshaw’s hat-trick and a strike from Romaine Sawyers.
Chris Hughton’s in-form Seagulls edged past Southend 1-0 in the previous round – and Smith is wary of the threat they will pose.
“It’s a great confidence boost knowing that we’ve already knocked out a Championship side but Brighton are on a good run of form,” said Smith. “They are unbeaten and Chris has done a great job at the start of this season. They’ve got some quality players.
“They made a lot of changes against Southend (in the last round). With us playing Southend (on 15th August), we ended up watching their game against Brighton and did some scouting on them. So if Brighton do change it, some of their names won’t surprise us.”
Dwight Gayle’s first-half hat-trick gave Crystal Palace a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Saddlers in the Capital One Cup second round last season.
This time around, Smith is hoping to avoid a repeat result at home to another higher league opponent.
“It’s a special place here when we play evening games and hopefully we can put in a better performance than we did last year,” said Smith. “The game was over pretty early with Dwight Gayle scoring a hat-trick.
“Hopefully this year we can put in a performance – we’re certainly in a better place this season and full of confidence.”
Smith made two changes to the Saddlers’ starting XI for the weekend win over Coventry and, with the games coming thick and fast, he may shuffle his pack again tonight.
“The start you have to the season, if you get through to the next round of the cup, is a solid five weeks of midweek games,” said Smith. “You have to let the lads recover and bring in some freshness.
“I’m having trouble picking teams at the moment. Even if you play well you’re not guaranteed a start.
“Anthony Forde came in (against Coventry) and took his chance really well, with a good performance and a goal. Reece Flanagan is unlucky not to be getting into the starting line-up after being involved in the last three games where we’ve won.
“It just shows that we have players who are ready to come in and play.”
The Coventry victory extended Walsall’s unbeaten home run to eight matches, dating back to last season.
And Smith wants to keep the run going – with the help of the home support.
“The fans were brilliant (on Saturday),” said Smith. “They got behind us and kept the Coventry supporters quiet.
“It was an entertaining game. We said that we want to be more entertaining this season.
“A lot has been made of our home form but that’s eight unbeaten now at home and we want to continue that, and hopefully continue the away form as well.”