A big summer ahead...
A look at how important this summer could be for Jon Whitney and the club as a whole.
The chorus of boos at the end of another disappointing defeat against a relegation threatened team on Tuesday, made me think about other occasions when the Saddlers faithful have really turned on the management.
I could only really think of two times in the last 5 years, the first was the 5-1 defeat away at Coventry City in December 2012 and the second was the 3-1 home reverse against Barnsley last year. In the case of the former result, Dean Smith was a few months into the new footballing philosophy implemented in the summer of '12 after a couple of seasons fighting relegation. I don't really recall too much about the game itself, apart from Richard Taundry doing literally nothing for 90 minutes, but that defeat was the catalyst for an unlikely charge up the table that featured some of the most exciting football seen at the Banks's in years and a flirt with the play-offs. The latter was Sean O'Driscoll's last game in charge after a pretty disastrous few months at the helm. After O'Driscoll left, Jon Whitney took charge and the Saddlers charged back up the table to fall at the play-off hurdle.
Both of those instances where the fans turned, saw a dramatic improvement in results in the immeadiate aftermath. Tuesday's 1-0 defeat against Port Vale was probably the lowest point of Whitney's reign, and whilst the performance wasn't horrific, the fact it came against a Vale side who had lost their previous 5 games without scoring a goal ensured a sizeable amount of the 4,000 home fans vented their anger towards the manager. Whilst Whitney doesn't have a run of fixtures to turn the tide, he does have an incredibly important summer of recruitment ahead which could prove either the turning point or end for Jon Whitney.
In isolation the Vale defeat wasn't that bad, mid-table side against relegation rivals etc, but for me it was personification of everything that has gone wrong during Whitney's tenure. Injuries to key players, a negative line-up, a lack of a style of play, no game management, young players thrown in before they're ready and a failure to defend properly all featured on Tuesday night. And whilst there are a large number of supporters who would happily see the manager leave today, there really isn't much chance that the board will act this early into his three year contract.
Those three years that Whitney has been afforded, bring me back to the title of this blog and just how crucial this summer is going to be for Whitney's own future at the club and the potential development of the team in our second 'five year plan'. When the 'retained and released' list is revealed at some point next week we will have a clearer idea as to the areas that Whitney will be looking to improve, but we could very well end up in a situation where we will lose 8 or 9 from our first team squad. Recruit well, complement our talented players and get the required experience on board then Whitney will be laying the foundations for not just a successful second year in charge but also for several seasons to come. However, a poor summer in the transfer (free agent) market could see Whitney be looking for new employment fairly quickly into 2017/18, and whilst it's been a fairly reasonable season points and position wise for the Saddlers, it's a real concern that all the factors that were present in the Vale defeat could put us in a bad position recruitment wise this summer...
We all know that we will never be able to compete with some of the bigger (or even smaller) clubs in the division financially, but last summer saw the club have an enormous amount of credit in the bank for the way we had operated on and off the field for the previous 5 years. For example Erhun Oztumer waxed lyrical about how 'Walsall were the only club he would sign for', how great was it to hear that!? Now, this may be cynical and a bit harsh but can you really see any player this summer saying that we are the most desirable club in the league? This may be why there has been a concerted effort to dip into non-league as ready made League One performers like Oztumer are simply not going to want to join this summer.
Will Gozie Ugwu be the next Tom Bradshaw? Will we able to attract the correct calibre of player?
Or will be back to Troy Hewitt, James McQuilkin and Anton Peterlin?
Get this wrong and it could prove terminal for Whitney as a manger at Walsall FC. Good luck Jon, I genuinely hope you succeed - I just have my doubts. Prove me (us all) wrong.