Mark Smith has been handed the reins at the Proact Stadium, primarily because of his ability to coach a team on a game-by-game basis, together with an understanding that players don’t really need much motivating for an FA Cup tie. The prospect of being involved in the third round draw is a huge incentive for an under-performing League One side that languishes in 16th position.
For Walsall, such motivation is diluted by the fact they find themselves in the thick of a promotion push and distracted by the recent upheaval of losing a long-standing manager and his backroom staff. In all probability, they won’t have turned their minds to this game until Wednesday.
The Saddlers came from behind to win 3-1 against local rivals Shrewsbury in midweek, which was a great response to the disappointment of Dean Smith’s departure. But in many ways, a local derby was probably the ideal game for them to go out and put on a brave face. Ultimately, though, you suspect the mourning process will catch up with them eventually.
All things considered, there’s a gulf in class between these two teams not fully expressed in the current market prices, a fact underlined by the memory of Scunny running out 4-1 winners at Brisbane Road in League One last January. Orient are chalked-up as 6/4 favourites here, when it should arguably be the other way around considering how the visitors have improved their squad since that last meeting.
Gareth Ainsworth’s men suffered a late collapse at Bristol Rovers in midweek, going down 3-0 courtesy of a 12-minute Matty Taylor hat-trick, but prior to that the Chariboys had conceded just once in seven hours of action on the road. Indeed, since the beginning of last season, they’ve conceded just 32 goals in 38 away matches, so expect a typically dogged display at the New Den. If Wanderers nick the first goal, the Lions have a real job on.
The Vics did us proud in the last round, landing odds of 6/1 with their replay win at Boreham Wood, so let’s re-invest some of that profit into them turning this journey into a fairytale. The Cheshire outfit are storming the Evo-Stik League with 15 wins out of 16 matches, so they’re clearly way above the level advertised. In Jim Gannon, they are led by a man with genuine Football League pedigree.