Walsall boss Jon Whitney keen to bury a few Wembley 'ghosts' in League One play-offs
Walsall boss Jon Whitney is keen for a chance to bury last season's 'Wembley ghosts' if the Saddlers make it through to the League One play-off final.
After just missing automatic promotion, third-placed Walsall now face a two-leg play-off semi-final against Barnsley.
And, if they can get past the Tykes, with Saturday's first leg at Oakwell, Whitney hops to erase memories of last season's JPT final defeat at Wembley.
"I would love to go to Wembley and put a few ghosts to rest," said Whitney.
"I was disappointed with how we performed there last year."
Having never previously made it to Wembley since the original stadium opened in 1923, the pain of that 2-0 defeat on their first visit will serve as motivation for the Saddlers.
"We hopefully now have three games to try and finish the job and win promotion, but it's going to be tough. Barnsley are a very good side.
"We're not allowing the players to turn the boilers off. We need to keep the heat on," he told BBC WM.
"It's good to get the away leg leg first, then hopefully we can bring it back to the Banks's because the atmosphere at Port Vale on Sunday was as good as I've known it."
We need to play like we did against Vale - Forde
Walsall winger Anthony Forde says their play-off chances depend on them maintaining the form they showed in Sunday's 5-0 win at Port Vale.
The 22-year-old scored a stunning 35-yarder, the killer third goal just before break, and later added another.
"The first is probably the best of my career," he told BBC WM. "I've had a look back and I didn't realise I was quite so far out.
"We'll be in with a great chance if we continue to play like we did against Port Vale. We knew it was a massive game but we were brilliant.
"We controlled it, got our goals early and, in the second half, we defended really well.
"We refused to let Port Vale get back into the game. We kept control of the ball and restricted them. It was a performance to be proud of."
Who will make it to Wembley?
The form book is of little help, judging by the results against Barnsley over the past two seasons, having found themselves at the same level again after an eight-and-a-half year break.
In 2014-15, both games ended up in comfortable home victories, Walsall winning 3-1 at Bescot, before Barnsley won 3-0 in the return,
This season, both were away wins, Walsall winning 2-0 at Oakwell in October, only for Barnsley to triumph 3-1 in the return in March.
Barnsley booked the final play-off spot with a 4-1 final-day thrashing of League One champions Wigan Athletic, while Walsall were enjoying their best win in over two years in Burslem against Vale.
But both games were against opposition who had nothing to play for - and Saturday's first leg at Oakwell will surely be a lot tighter affair, with far fewer scoring chances.
Walsall's play-off record
In the 29 years since end-of-season play-offs began, Walsall have been involved three times, and promoted twice - taking five games to do it in 1988.
1987-88 Division Three: After beating Notts County 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals thanks largely to a David Kelly-inspired 3-1 first-leg win at Meadow Lane, Walsall then played Bristol City in the two-leg final.
After winning 3-1 at Ashton Gate in the first leg, Kelly again scoring twice, they then went 2-0 down in the return at Fellows Park.
Having finished 3-3 on aggregate, Tommy Coakley's Saddlers won 4-2 on penalties to determine who would host the replay. And two days later, having retained home advantage at Fellows Park, they won 4-0, Kelly getting a hat-trick, to earn promotion.
1992-93 Division Three: After finishing fifth, one ahead of Crewe, those final league places were dramatically overturned in the play-offs as Kenny Hibbitt's Walsall lost 9-3 on aggregate, Tony Naylor scoring five of the Alex goals.
A 5-1 first-leg defeat at Gresty Road, in which Naylor netted twice, was followed by a 4-2 defeat at Bescot, Naylor this time getting a hat-trick.
2000-01 Division Two: Another eight years went past before Walsall made the play-offs again, by which time the finals were no longer over two legs and had been moved to Wembley.
But England's national stadium had just started its six-year overhaul - and the final was across the Welsh border at the Millennium Stadium.
Walsall booked their place at Cardiff with a 0-0 away leg draw against Stoke City before Pedro Matias scored twice in a 4-2 second-leg win at Bescot.
In the final, Ray Graydon's Saddlers twice trailed to Reading before turning it round to triumph 3-2 thanks to Darren Byfield's extra-time winner.