Jon Whitney: Walsall boss remains positive ahead of League One finale

Walsall's players ran to the side of their pitch to celebrate their third goal against Fleetwood on Monday with boss Jon Whitney
Walsall's players ran to celebrate Monday's third goal against Fleetwood with Jon Whitney

Walsall interim boss Jon Whitney insists that the Saddlers are still highly optimistic going into this Sunday's League One finale.

To earn the second automatic promotion place, Whitney's side must win at Port Vale and hope that Burton Albion lose at all-but relegated Doncaster Rovers.

But Devante Cole's late goal at Bescot for Fleetwood on Monday means they now need an extra swing in goal difference.

"It's like everything," said Whitney. "It can always be better, can't it?"

He joked: "If I had a bit more hair, I could probably style it a bit tonight.

"Before the game, if you'd looked at the permutations of a 2-0 win, another 2-0 win and a 1-0 defeat for Burton, that gets you into the Championship.

"So, if you look at it another way, we've got the 2-0 win. We've got momentum now. Our intention was to keep it going for as long as we can. We're going to carry it forward to next week and see where it takes us."

Club physio Jon Whitney assisted previous Saddlers boss prior to his departure to Brentford in November
Jon Whitney was part of previous Walsall boss Dean Smith's backroom team prior to his departure to Brentford in November

Hard work on the training ground

Whitney, Walsall's fitness coach prior to him taking the main job following Sean O'Driscoll's sacking in March, was quick to praise his team's continued effort against Fleetwood.

"The first 25 minutes was absolutely outstanding against a team who I respect really highly," he said. "We were so disciplined with our performance. Our energy and work ethic was a credit to the boys."

He also revealed that his time spent under the innovative John Beck at Lincoln City in the late 1990s was not wasted.

"We spent time on Sunday working on set-pieces. We're known as this open, fast tempo footballing team but we realised our deadball game had to improve," he explained.

"I got promoted at Lincoln City with John Beck just on dead balls. So if we can add that to our game it gives us another threat. We showed that against Fleetwood."

The final day equation

If Nigel Clough's Burton avoid defeat at Doncaster, then they will win automatic promotion - but one added twist is that the Brewers will be against former Walsall captain Andy Butler, who played for Clough at Sheffield United before falling out of favour.

If Burton go up and Walsall avoid defeat, the Saddlers then finish third - and earn a two-leg play-off semi-final against Barnsley, Scunthorpe United or Gillingham.

Sixth-placed Barnsley are at League One champions Wigan Athletic, while Scunthorpe, also on 71 points but two goals worse off, go to Sheffield United.

Gillingham, in eighth, two points behind, knowing anything less than a win is not good enough, host fourth-placed Millwall, who could climb to third if Walsall lose.

If Walsall do finish third, the away leg of their semi-final would be on Saturday, 14 May (17:30 BST) and the home leg would be at Bescot on Thursday, 19 May (19:45 BST). The final is at Wembley on Sunday, 29 May (15:00 BST).

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