Dean Smith: Walsall boss relaxed and happy about summer's work

Walsall manager Dean Smith
Dean Smith has been in charge of the Saddlers since January 2011

Walsall boss Dean Smith is happy at having enjoyed a relatively stress-free summer as he prepares for another tilt at promotion from League One.

After a season in which Walsall reached Wembley for the first time in their history, their bid to make the play-offs faltered late on.

The bulk of the squad remains intact, with only two players having left.

"My wife had a wonderful holiday this year as the phone was off for a couple of weeks," Smith told BBC WM.

"It was a lot more relaxing, as a lot of our players were under contract."

Apart from keeping hold of top scorer Tom Bradshaw, he agreed new deals early in the close season with fellow striker Amadou Bakayoko, captain Adam Chambers, defenders Paul Downing and James O'Connor, midfielder Liam Kinsella and goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray.

Early season away travel for Saddlers
Walsall start the 2015-16 season with a home game against Oldham Athletic on Saturday 8 August - followed by three successive away games, at Nottingham Forest (in the League Cup), Southend and Rochdale.

Smith has also made three signings - goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender Jason Demetriou and winger Milan Lalkovic, who returns to the club where he was on loan two seasons ago following his release by Barnsley.

"There were a couple who have left us who we'd liked to have kept," said the Saddlers boss.

"James Chambers has retired from the game and Richard O'Donnell has gone to Wigan, but that's part and parcel of football, and we've brought in good replacements, hopefully better players who will do well for the club.

"Neil Etheridge is strong and steady and will have a battle on with Craig MacGillivray to be in goal on the opening day of the season.

"Jason Demetriou too, although I'm a little bit biased there as I've known him for years. He's had a nice holiday in Cyprus for four years. Now he's coming back to League One and will settle in and be a good player for us.

"And then there's Milan Lalkovic. He has moments of brilliance and moments of frustration. But the frustrations are getting less and less, which means he's getting more consistent."

This summer's ins and outs at Bescot
In: Neil Etheridge (Fulham), Milan Lalkovic (Barnsley), Jason Demetriou (Anorthosis Famagusta)
Out: Richard O'Donnell (Wigan Athletic), James Chambers (retired), Ben Purkiss (released - signed for Port Vale)

Smith also sees the forthcoming season as a big one for midfielder Sam Mantom, who was lined up to become the club's captain a year ago only to suffer a serious knee injury.

"It's a big season for him in the last year of his contract, one he's itching for," said Smith.

"He was player of the season in the first year of his contract. And then we hardly saw him last season through injury.

"At times we missed him as he's a quality player. We needed to go and get an emergency loan signing, Michael Cain, to come in and deputise."

"We've also a set of lads coming through. The likes of Reece Flanagan and Liam Kinsella. They're a year older with another season's education under their belts. They should be better and pushing for the first team ."

Walsall came 14th in League One last season, 10 points shy of a play-off spot, and one place lower than the season before, despite picking up one point more (59).

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