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Neal ready for Walsall

5 August 2016

Team news from the manager ahead of League One opener

Manager Neal Ardley has virtually a fully fit squad at his disposal for tomorrow’s historic League One opener at the Banks’s Stadium against Walsall.

“We’ve got one niggle that’s a little bit of a doubt that’s happened during the week in training, but we’ll see about that before we pick the team,” said Neal in an interview to Dons Player. “Other than that, it’s a clean bill of health and everyone seems like they are raring to go.”

“George Francomb is coming along,” added Neal, on the subject of the right midfielder’s recovery from knee surgery.

“We were really worried at one point that it wasn’t progressing enough and you don’t want to go down the other route, so he’s had a couple of injections and they’ve monitored it and he’s getting stronger every day.”

“Fingers crossed – and I don’t want to get ahead of myself – he is heading in the right direction.”

“We got through the four pre-season friendlies last week and although we wanted better performances in one or two of the games, we came away from that and said everyone is going into the final week in good shape and up until that point that’s all you can ask for really.”

“I’m very proud to be leading us into League One. I think I would have felt the pressure that bit more if we’d have still been in League Two and we hadn’t had a good season last season, so it’s great that what we have built over the past three years culminated in a great season last season. You wouldn’t swap that day at the end of May for the world, but you’ve got to put that to bed now and we’re excited because once again we’ve got to go and punch above our weight in a big way and I think that’s what we’ve always been about and that’s a challenge we’re all up for.”

Walsall lost 6-1 on aggregate to eventual winners Barnsley in last season’s League One play-offs, having finished third in the final table.

Jon Whitney was appointed manager at the start of June, after ending last season in interim charge of the club. He took charge in March following the departure of Sean O’Driscoll and guided them to a respectable finish.

There have been many changes to The Saddlers playing staff over the summer and on Monday they signed Cyprus striker Andreas Makris for a club-record fee from Anorthosis Famagusta. Walsall have also made ten other signings, with a new look to their squad since missing out on promotion.

“You do your best on the first game of the season,” added Neal. “It’s always hard. We have scouting reports once the season gets underway. We’ve got an idea what they will be about and we will show them the upmost respect as we should do where they finished in the league. We’re going to have to be very good in all areas of our game if we’re going to come away with anything.”

“I think there will be more technically gifted players at this level and more clever play around your box to try and break you down, so there will be more tactical matters to deal with rather than just the physical side. For me, personally, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to and for the players I think they’re looking forward to proving that they can cope together as a team, regardless whether others have got individuals that have played at a higher level, but we as a team are going to be very hard to play against.”

The full interview with manager Neal Ardley is available to Dons Player subscribers.

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