Peterborough United head west as they face mid-table side Walsall in a League One clash this Saturday at 3pm. The pair drew 1-1 back at The ABAX in September and both teams go into this clash with play-off positions on their mind.
The Saddlers currently occupy 12th spot in the 24-team league and have just one solitary win in their last five outings. They're a high-scoring outfit who are content going forward, but leaky at the back. Much like 'Boro they favour the 'we'll score one more than you' approach as a style of play. Jon Whitney's side have played four matches in February, drawing two, losing one and recording a narrow 2-1 victory over Northampton on the first Saturday on the month. A heavy 4-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers followed and their most recent outing was a goalless stalemate with promotion chasing Scunthorpe United on Tuesday night.
Their results might be inconsistent and the same can be said for their tactics and style-of-play. 5-4-1 and 3-5-2 have both been fielded in recent games, with a counter-attacking style in force with the latter formation and a more possession-heavy style played with the former. It makes them slippery to deal with as they are tactically adept to playing either formation and makes Grant McCann's scouting job a tough ask - do you prepare to face 10 men behind the ball or do you need to be patient in breaking down the home side?
Tactics and results are inconsistent, but what about personnel? Well, straight away there's one name that hits you as a Posh fan, and that's Erhun Oztumer. 'The Turkish Messi' left the ABAX to join The Saddlers back in the summer and he's been a real success story for the Walsall faithful. He's the clubs top scorer with 12 goals as well as being their joint top assist-maker, he's also leading the 'man of the match' chart for the West Midlands side. He's been deployed up front, on the left of the midfield and even down the centre as an attacking midfielder this campaign and proves useful wherever he's pitched. Despite being pint-sized at just 5ft 3", McCann and Posh will know all too well what his strengths and weaknesses are. He did feature in the first meeting between the two sides, playing at the top of a midfield diamond. Luckily Posh kept him quiet that day and they'll be good to do the same again this weekend.
It would be foolish to focus just on Oztumer ahead of this one though, Canadian striker Simeon Jackson is another player quite happy to turn up and take the headlines. He's appeared for his country 48 times and is a good all-round football league striker. He's quick to react, knows where the net is and is clever in his overall style of play. He's a true forward, so expect him to lead the line regardless of the formation chosen.
At the back and youngster Jason McCarthy is one to keep an eye on for Poshies. He's currently on loan from Premiership side Southampton and has featured in every minute of Walsall's season so far. Despite being a solid defender, he's also a genuine goal threat for the Saddlers. He's helped himself to five goals this campaign, all coming from set-pieces and usually assisted by, you guessed it, Mr Oztumer. McCarthy is a right-back and is quite happy to roam down his flank.
Walsall gaffer Jon Whitney is in his first job at The Banks's Stadium and is finding life pretty good. He has a 40% win rate from his first 52 games in charge, after joining the club in March last year. Despite being a newbie, Whitney is known for being a shrewd sole in the transfer market and has a good open-door policy with his players.
Mark Haywood is in the man with the whistle for this game. He averages 3.5 yellows a game and has shown red five times this season. He has had the privilege of officiating both teams this campaign. He took charge of Posh's 2-1 win away to Bristol Rovers back in October - Bostwick and Coulthirst seeing yellow that day. He also gave a penalty against 'Boro in that tie. He took charge of Walsall just a week later as he oversaw their 0-1 win away to Leicester U23's in the Football League Trophy. This is his eleventh season officiating in the football league, so he comes with experience.
Marcus Maddison overturned an early Simeon Jackson goal when the pair met at The ABAX in the reverse of this tie. Overall and across the seasons the pair have met on 49 occasions, with Saturday set the be the half-century of games between the duo. Walsall boasts the better record with 20 wins to Peterborough's 15. Outside of the league and the pair have met twice in the FA Cup, with Peterborough were victorious on both occasions (1959 and 1982).
Jack Baldwin nears completion to full fitness following his injury, and he may feature on Saturday against The Saddlers. Michael Bostwick remains a doubt with a broken jaw, while Harry and Jermaine Anderson both miss out. Posh play on both Saturday and Tuesday for the next two weeks so don't be surprised to see McCann rotate his options.
The Banks's stadium is a smart looking all-seated ground with a good atmosphere on match days. Three of the four stands are totally enclosed, making the stadium feel 'like a box', and the acoustics are good. The only downside is the supporting pillars which can sometimes hinder the view, particularly if the turnout is large. The stadium is treated to its own train station, called Bescot Stadium and is literally two minutes walk from the away turnstiles. Trains run local from Birmingham New Street and with regular services, you should have no issues getting to or from the ground by train.
It's good news for car drivers too, with a good-sized car park located at the ground, behind the away stand. This costs just £4. The car park is well designed too and lends itself to a quick getaway after the game, even at capacity.
The Saddlers Club, which is just outside the stadium, admits away fans wishing to wet their whistle. Entry is £2 each but you'll be treated to a friendly atmosphere, with separate rooms for home and away fans, with an array of real ales and bar food. The other option is the King George V on Wallowes Lane, but this does get busy. Good news inside the ground too, after many years of not serving alcohol to away fans, you can now get beer as a travelling supporter inside The Banks's Stadium!
A pie inside the ground will set you back £3, which is 15p cheaper than the League One average, but a brew costs £2, 15p more expensive that their League One counterparts standard. You'll find a good selection of pies on offer though, all from the Pukka Pie range, as well as the usual cheeseburgers and hotdogs.
The key figures:
League positions; Walsall - 12th Peterborough United - 8th
Last five; Walsall - DDWLD Peterborough United - LLWLW
Previous meeting; 24/09/2016 (Sky Bet League One) - Peterborough United 1-1 Walsall
Average attendances (2015/16); Walsall - 5,382 Peterborough United - 5,447
Top Scorer (league); Walsall - Erhun Oztumer (12) Peterborough United - Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison & Tom Nichols (7)
Interesting fact: Walsall were the very first club in the world to stock the now famous Chicken Balti Pie. In fact, Pukka Pie credited the Stadium for making the pie famous in the first place. You can get a Balti Pie at The Banks's Stadium for just £3.
This game is not all-ticket, but there is a price rise of £2 if tickets are purchased on the day. In advance tickets are priced as follows; Adults £20, Over 60s and U18s £15 and U12s free with every adult ticket.
Tickets are on sale at www.theposhtickets.com, via the Ticketmaster hotline 0844 847 1934* and in person at the ABAX Stadium Box Office.
*calls cost 7ppm plus your network access fee.