Jubilant boss looks back at an historic night...SADDLERS' boss, Dean Smith. has described his 'immense pride' at being the first-ever Walsall manager to take a side to Wembley Stadium.
A gritty defensive display kept the visitors at bay to spark scenes of euphoria at Banks’s Stadium on the final whistle.
“It’s starting to sink in,” said Smith earlier today. “It takes a while because of the euphoria of the night, but the amount of messages I’ve had and good will from people has been unbelievable.
“You see what it means to a lot of people and I think that’s the best part of it. You don’t realise in the build-up to the game until you actually see it to the people here and the good people at the football club.
“I was asked this morning whether I had a hangover but I had two beers before I got home and then I sat down with my wife and went through some of the messages we’d received.
“I think it started to sink in then a little bit.”
With a two-goal advantage heading into the tie, Smith’s men were able to stifle any chances of a Preston fight-back with a dogged and at times ugly performance.
For the boss though, the ends justified the means.
“I don’t think the game will be remembered,” he added. “What will be remembered is that we got to Wembley and that’s what we set out to achieve.
“We know it wasn’t pretty. We were poor on the ball but I didn’t think we were troubled until injury time.
“I felt we were comfortable throughout and it was all about getting over the line. I always thought the two goals at Deepdale would be enough for us.”
In the midst of a chaotic pitch invasion, Smith’s battle hardened players were held aloft by sections of the crowd, many of whom had waited decades to see their side get to Wembley.
For Smith though, it was straight down the tunnel to congratulate his players before celebrating with those closest to him.
“I shook hands with Simon [Grayson] and went to wait outside our dressing room for the lads,” Smith explained. “I was waiting a while for some of them!
“A few got mobbed on the pitch but it was nice to then go upstairs in front of some of the fans who had stayed in the ground and to see the directors moved to tears and really proud of what we’ve achieved.
“I just felt immense pride. It was great because my wife and children were up there so I could share it with them and that’s always emotional.
“You realise what you’ve achieved when you see Richard O’Kelly getting choked up. Richard doesn’t get emotional but it means a lot to both of us because we started our professional careers here.”
Despite realising the magnitude of his achievement in getting the club to Wembley, Smith insists this Saddlers success story isn’t over just yet.
“One of the directors said to me we’ll enjoy it,” he smiled. “I said you can enjoy it but we’re out to win it. It’s great that the club have finally got to Wembley but it’s a competition we want to go out and win.
“I’ve been a playing captain and lost at Wembley and its not a nice place to go and lose.
“I know it will be a carnival atmosphere for the supporters and I’ve had phone calls already about arranged coaches so I think I’ve got four lots of coaches going already!
“Now our focus is on the League campaign.
“We’ve got seven or eight weeks until the Final, it’s something to look forward to that’s for sure but we want to get some points on the board and make it a Wembley double if we can."