WALSALL manager Dean Smith has rejected claims his team lacks character ahead of tonight’s visit to Bramall Lane.
The former Sheffield Wednesday defender spoke out after watching Sheffield United’s latest opponents surrender a two-goal lead against Crewe Alexandra last weekend.
It marked the second home match in succession that Walsall, who are 12th in the League One table, had snatched a draw from the jaws of victory and means they travel north searching for their first win since beating AFC Bournemouth nearly four weeks ago.
“We won’t be disheartened,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of young players and they are learning the game all the time and their mental strength will come into it. I’ve got a squad I think is capable of getting results. We’ve got results, but after being 2-0 up we should have seen the game out better.
“It’s cruel that they scored in the last minute but that’s the way it seems to go sometimes.”
Danny Wilson, Smith’s managerial rival, yesterday admitted United could attempt to exploit Walsall’s lack of experience on the big stage.
Average attendances at the Banks’s Stadium this season are 3,795, compared to 18,144 in the red and white half of the Steel City.
Nevertheless, Wilson struck a note of caution by acknowledging Smith possess some “excellent youngsters” in his squad.
One of those, striker Will Grigg, said: “We have to keep believing. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and there won’t be many times where we’re conceding late goals. We need to put it right but it’s coming.”
Grigg, aged 21, added: “Everyone thinks we’d held on long enough (against Crewe) but we were unlucky at the end of the day. In the first 40 minutes we were all over them and played some really good stuff.”
Translating performances into results, especially on home soil, has also taxed United of late.
They prepared for Walsall’s arrival in third place and boasting the Football League’s only unbeaten record this term.
However, while United have claimed 15 points on the road, they have collected only 10 at their own ground since August.
That’s a statistic Wilson concedes he would like to address but does not require much by way of explanation.
“We know how desperate people are to get one over on us,” he said recently. “Whether that be because they perceive us as a big club or just too big for our boots I don’t know.
“But we’ve seen before what a result against us means.”
Echoing those sentiments, Smith confirmed: “There is plenty of belief in our dressing room.
“Bramall Lane can be an intimidating venue but it is always a good place to go and play football.
“My lads are confident and will be going there intent on playing the right way and bringing home a result.
“Sheffield United have quality throughout their side and are yet to taste defeat this season.
“We have proved what we are capable of so far though and will be sticking to the principles which have served us well.”
Smith expects to have Andy Taylor at his disposal despite substituting the former United full-back during the meeting with Crewe.
James Chambers, previously of Doncaster Rovers, West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City, could also feature after recovering from a thigh complaint.
Leading goalscorer George Bowerman will be hoping for a recall after starting two of Walsall’s last three games on the bench.
Goalkeeper Karl Darlow is poised to retain his place after extending his loan from Nottingham Forest.
“We are pleased with his progress and delighted that Forest have agreed he can stay,” Smith, who made more than 50 league appearances for Wednesday, said.
“Karl has fitted in extremely well and is keen to stay and continue to build upon the experience he’s getting with us.”
Darlow, 21, started his footballing career with Aston Villa before joining Forest’s academy.
“Karl is someone we watched a lot before bringing him in,” Smith added. “And we know that he is very highly rated at Forest.
“I think he’s lived up to those expectations and shown why we were pleased to get him and bring him in to our football club.”