Big match build-up: Walsall to provide blast from the past

Richard O'Kelly left Doncaster in 2011.
Richard O'Kelly left Doncaster in 2011.

Come Saturday, Doncaster Rovers fans can be forgiven if they feel like they have stumbled into a time machine.

For Walsall - complete with three former Doncaster players and their ex-assistant boss - will provide a stark reminder of days gone by at the Keepmoat Stadium.

With Richard O’Kelly’s influence all too plain to see, the Saddlers will arrive in South Yorkshire on a mission to out-pass Rovers.

It was a philosophy that got Sean O’Driscoll’s Doncaster out of League One via Wembley.

And it is one now working for Wembley-bound Walsall, whose run to the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy means next month they will leave a group of only four Football League clubs never to have played at the home of football.

“We’ve got a manager [Dean Smith] that’s probably the longest-serving during my tenure at the club and his philosophy is to play good football and, regardless of the results, I think that’s how we play,” said chairman Jeff Bonser this week.

“We’ve stuck to the philosophy and we’re going to continue to stick to it because it’s bringing us some success.

“Let’s hope we haven’t got to wait another 127 years before we get to Wembley again.

“League One is such a tight league and my hope is that we’ll be nudging the play-offs this year.

“If it’s not this year, I’ve always said that some day, and that day is getting closer and closer, we’re going to go back to the Championship one way or another.”

Walsall, 16th in League One, will face Bristol City in the JPT final on March 22 after getting the better of Preston in a two-legged semi-final - a result which means the Midlanders will arrive at the Keepmoat Stadium in high spirits.

“It’s a great time for the supporters,” said Bonser.

“I’m a supporter. I’ve been a supporter since 1949 when I first came to a Walsall game at just four years old.

“So I know how these supporters are going to be feeling and there’s going to be nobody more proud than me when I see Walsall run out on the pitch at Wembley.”


Richard O’Kelly

Sandwiched between two spells at the Banks’s Stadium since leaving Doncaster, the former Walsall striker has also managed Hereford and assisted Sean O’Driscoll at Bristol City.

But he returned to the Saddlers again in 2013 as Dean Smith’s assistant and has played a key role in establishing the club’s footballing philosophy.

James Chambers

Chambers made 87 appearances for Rovers before joining Walsall in 2012.

James O’Connor

Former fans’ favourite O’Connor pitched up at the Banks’s Stadium last summer following his release from Derby County.

James Baxendale

Thorne lad Baxendale is now in his third season with the Saddlers. He scored in Walsall’s 3-0 win over Rovers in September.