Jon Whitney: Managing Walsall 'is a doddle' compared to digging graves

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Jon Whitney
Jon Whitney used to help out as a gravedigger in his father-in-law's undertaking business

Walsall interim head coach Jon Whitney may not have known exactly what he was stepping into when he took over as Saddlers boss in March.

In the seven weeks since he succeeded the sacked Sean O'Driscoll, the Saddlers have won six of their 10 League One games to stay in the race for promotion.

Tuesday night's ultimately nervy 2-1 home win over Shrewsbury Town guaranteed at least a play-off place, while narrowing the gap on second-placed Burton Albion to three points.

But, given how well the club were firing before Christmas under Dean Smith, prior to his departure to Brentford, that is still not considered enough for critics of Whitney's methods and forthright manner.

"We're very disappointed that a lot's been said in the press," the 45-year-old former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Hull City defender told BBC WM.

"I've heard from some sources that we haven't got a cat in hell's chance in the play-offs.

"But that fuels me. It makes me slightly angry, but that's good, as it gives us the hunger to prove people wrong."

Walsall celebrate
Walsall have been outside the League One automatic promotion places since the start of February

And as he waits to discover whether he has done enough to warrant being kept on as first-team boss at the end of the season, the footballer turned physiotherapist turned fitness coach can draw on the experience of one of his former professions to give him an added sense of life's proportions.

"I've been through a lot," said Whitney, who helped his undertaker father-in-law while training as a physio after his playing days ended.

"I dug graves for two and a half years. This is a doddle compared to digging clay graves at six o'clock in the morning.

"Win or lose, I always find life exciting. I always try to find positives. Some people still don't get me. They still try to pick at me. They keep trying to find chinks in the armour but they won't find one.

"This is something I'm revelling in and I'm not going to waste it."

Still hoping to go for Burton

Walsall's next step in their quest to claim the second automatic promotion place comes on Monday at home to Fleetwood, by which time second-placed Burton will have hosted play-off hopefuls Gillingham on Saturday.

And Whitney warned that Nigel Clough's Burton should not underestimate a Gillingham side who have slipped to seventh, having picked up just three points in a winless six-match run.

"They control it for Saturday," said Whitney. "But we've put a bit of pressure on them. Their week would have been a lot easier if we'd got beat.

"It's a real tough game for them on Saturday. Gillingham are a really good side. Bradley Dack's a very special player, and they have Cody McDonald up front. They have goals in their team.

"But let's keep upsetting them. Let's keep it going as long as we can.

"These players have got guts. I believe in them. They've showed why they're in the position they're in. Credit to the club and the fans for not losing that belief."

Jon Whitney was talking to BBC WM's Mike Taylor

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