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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Nothing to shout about

As the end of the season approaches, Nobes reflects on supporting a side whose season has been one of mid-table mediocrity.

It's been a quiet mid-table season in League One for Saddlers fans this term

You know it's been a pretty boring season when the highlight of your team's campaign is winning at Leeds to end the Yorkshire club's unbeaten home record.

Spare a thought then for supporters of Walsall - whose season never even got exciting enough to warrant the term 'anti-climax' being used to describe it.

Monday's victory over Wycombe pushed Chris Hutchings's side over the 50-point mark - securing safety for another season in League One.

However, with them sitting too far off the top six, it leaves them with the prospect of half a dozen games of the season remaining with nothing to play for.

The prospect of six games which, in the grand scheme of things, mean very little to Saddlers fans. Indeed, they might even be questioning whether turning up would be worth the entrance fee.

After all, watching their team going through the motions in games that mean very little to them is hardly great box office. The atmosphere at the ground notably suffers, players begin to think about spending their holiday on a beach somewhere.

In truth, it's almost like ending the season how you began it - with a distinct pre-season game feeling consuming everyone involved with a team whose season is effectively over.

Not that they haven't had a long time to consider this happening. They hit their highest point of the season - 6th - after just two games. After five matches they were 17th for a week - their lowest position of the campaign.

Since then, the Saddlers have fluctuated between 10th and 16th all season - sometimes popping up in the top half of the table, then slipping down into the bottom half the week after. Not exactly the excitement traditionally associated with yo-yoing.

One highlight of the season was a first round FA Cup tie away at Black Country rivals Stourbridge. It ended in a narrow win for Walsall, but it probably meant more to the Non League side than their League One neighbours.

Not that it was the start of any glorious Cup run for the club either - they were dumped out in the very next round to Brentford.

Indeed, their cup runs were all curtailed very quickly, suffering first round exits to League Two outfits - in the League Cup to Accrington and in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy to Bury.

As seen with Carlisle's success in the JPT - a mid-table season can often be livened up with a cup run. Walsall fans weren't afforded any similar excitement.

However, there is another way of looking at things. After all - relegation battles can be exciting - but would Saddlers supporters really want to be losing sleep and sweating over results in the spring sunshine?

Instead of frantically and desperately hoping to hear positive news from other grounds across the stadium - they can enjoy watching football in peace and relax.

They also have the opportunity of possibly spoiling a few teams' parties, and playing an important role in determining who finishes in the top six and who goes down.

Games against the likes of promotion chasing Huddersfield and Swindon, and strugglers Hartlepool and Tranmere could yet be crucial for those sides.

Thumbs up, but it's been a quiet season for Chris Hutchings's Walsall

Unfortunately, their last two matches - against Carlisle and Milton Keynes - are likely to be games between two sides with nothing at all to play for. In the May heat, a few people could be forgiven for having an afternoon snooze.

Of course, that's if your glass is half empty. Half full, and you'll be hoping to see two sides playing care-free, exhibition football. Freedom can often lead to a better, more open, game of football - and plenty of goals.

While a mid-table season doesn't cause any anxiety to a team's supporters though, it can provide a few headaches for club accountants.

After all, even when a side is involved in a relegation battle, there's increased interest, and often fans will come in their numbers to help their beleagured team.

Mid-table mediocrity is not great box office, and the Saddlers have the second lowest average attendances in League One. That's despite there being plenty of smaller clubs in the division. The monotony of their campaign could be the reason for this.

It also impacts upon season ticket sales for the next term. Is spending hundreds of pounds to watch your team every other week worth the money - particularly in these difficult economic times - when another dull campaign beckons?

Or do they show their committment to their club in the hope that this mid-table season was one of transition - the first full one under Hutchings - and that the foundations have been laid for a top six challenge next term.

Just what chance do the West Midlands club have of returning to the Championship level of football they last played at in 2004?

Or have they now reached their natural level after dropping right down to League Two in 2006.

Both issues to concern Walsall fans over the summer. For now, they can just enjoy a few more stress-free weeks.

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