Young defender now a regular in the Saddlers' defence...
Jon Whitney believes young centre-back Matt Preston is becoming a “more consistent” and “dominant” defender.
The 21-year-old has been a regular in the heart of the Saddlers’ defence over the last few months, starting 12 of our last 15 matches in all competitions.
Preston has made a total of 35 first-team appearances since progressing through the club’s youth system, and Whitney is pleased with the progress he is making.
“He’s been more consistent this season,” said Whitney. “He’s always had a physical presence but it has taken Matty time to adapt.
“When he was with the youth he was always the strongest, the quickest and the fittest. Now he’s got to be that, but also be good on the ball and have that dimension.
“He’s still got a lot to work on and areas where he can improve – like we all have – but he takes things on board. He doesn’t beat himself up if he makes a mistake.
“He’s becoming a dominant young centre-half which is key for us moving forward, and he plays especially well in a back three with his pace.”
The Saddlers have played three at the back in the last two games – comprehensive 4-1 and 3-1 home victories over Sheffield United and Bristol Rovers respectively.
And Whitney feels we have the personnel to use a 3-5-1-1 formation, with the two wing-backs – Joe Edwards and Jason McCarthy - particularly important.
“It’s the type of players we’ve got that makes it work, with Flo [Cuvelier], the energy of Ozzy [Isaiah Osbourne] and Adam [Chambers] doing that screening role in front,” Whitney added.
“The wing-backs are vital - their energy has to be above and beyond - but in Jason and Joe, we’ve got two of the fittest lads in the league.
“If you keep all your main players fit, and you’ve got good competition for places, you get good performances from that.”
Whitney may persist with the same system when the Saddlers travel to relegation-threatened Bury this weekend.
The struggling Shakers are 21st in League One, two points from safety, but in forward James Vaughan they have a man bang in form.
“It’ll be a tough game,” Whitney admitted. “Their striker Vaughan is in a rich vein of form, having scored six in the last two games.
“Tom Pope is also a handful, Jermaine Pennant has just come in and they’ve got a big squad.
“I know Brassy [Bury boss Chris Brass] really well, he’s Neil Cutler’s friend, and they’ll be doing everything they can to nullify our threat.
“They’re the home team so they’ll be expected to entertain. He’ll know as well that we’ve got some dangerous players and I’m quite confident going into this weekend that we can perform again.”