We look ahead to tomorrow's season opener at Gigg Lane...
The Saddlers’ 2017/18 League One campaign begins with a testing trip to Lee Clark’s big-spending Bury. Both sides will be hoping to improve on last season; inconsistent Walsall ended an indifferent 2016/17 in 14th place, while the Shakers only survived relegation on the final day, finishing 19th. The Gigg Lane club have had a busy summer, bringing in no fewer than 16 new faces, including forwards Nicky Ajose and Jermaine Beckford. The last three meetings have produced 17 goals – two 3-3 draws last term and a 3-2 Saddlers victory the season before.
FINAL STANDINGS 2016/17:
Bury: 19th – P46 W13 D11 L22 F61 A73 PTS50
Walsall: 14th – P46 W14 D16 L16 F51 A58 PTS58
28th January 2017 – Bury 3-3 Walsall
Walsall fought back from two goals down only to concede a stoppage-time equaliser in a thrilling draw with relegation-threatened Bury. First-half goals from James Vaughan and Reece Brown put the Shakers in control, before Erhun Oztumer halved the deficit 19 minutes from time. Jason McCarthy’s well-taken double completed a stirring Saddlers fightback, only for Tom Soares to fire home a 91st-minute leveller.
Bury wins: 23
Walsall wins: 18
OPPOSITION IN FOCUS:
Bury Manager: Lee Clark
The ex-Birmingham boss took charge in February and led Bury to League One safety last term, winning five of his 14 games. Starting his managerial career with Huddersfield, the former Newcastle midfielder twice guided the Terriers to the League One play-offs and presided over a club-record 43-match unbeaten league run. After two years with Blues, the 44-year-old endured an ill-fated spell at troubled Blackpool and spent 12 months with Kilmarnock, before arriving at Gigg Lane.
Bury Star Man: Jermaine Beckford
The Shakers will be hoping experienced forward Beckford can fill the void left by the departure of James Vaughan, last season’s 24-goal top scorer. The 33-year-old has won three promotions at this level, with Scunthorpe in 2007, Leeds in 2010 and Preston in 2015, netting a hat-trick in North End’s play-off final victory over Swindon. A six-time Jamaica international, Beckford started out in non-league with Wealdstone and spent the 2010/11 season in the Premier League with Everton, notching eight league goals.
WALSALL TEAM NEWS:
Right-back Nicky Devlin is suspended. Centre-half Jim O’Connor is not part of boss Jon Whitney’s plans.
West Yorkshire-based Heywood officiated 36 matches last season, brandishing 162 yellow cards and seven red. He took charge of one Saddlers match – our 2-1 Checkatrade Trophy group stage win at Sheffield United in October 2016.
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