PNE stand between Saddlers and history

Walsall striker Tom Bradshaw has scored 14 goals this season
Walsall striker Tom Bradshaw has scored 14 goals this season
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Walsall will target a first ever trip to Wembley when they tackle Preston North End in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern area final.

Playing at the national stadium has so far eluded the Saddlers in their 127-year history.

North End have not been there since 1994 so let battle commence over two legs, the first of which is at Deepdale this evening (7.45pm).

Walsall boss Dean Smith said: “It’s great for the club that we have got to this stage but we have two tough games against Preston North End.

“If we did get there it would be justification for the board and chairman sticking by us through some really tough times.

“Football is so tough because you are judged on results but you can only control the performances, not the results.

“The big thing is not to lose sight of what you are doing – you have to believe in it and care about it.

“We know we haven’t been to Wembley and I’ve always said the best chance would be through the play-offs and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

“I believe we still have the chance in both and we will do our best to try to get there.”

Saddlers midfielder James Baxendale says that the West Midlands side have to approach tonight’s game like any other, rather than get swept away by the thought of what awaits the winners.

Baxendale said: “We’re at their place first but we will just approach it like we would any game and try to get the result.

“We need to make sure we are still in it when we take them back to our place.

“We’ve really enjoyed the tournament this season and would love to take that final step to Wembley.

“We are all itching for a chance to play at Wembley.

“It’s remarkable that a club like this has never played at the national stadium.

“To be the first group to achieve that would be something special.

“We all know how much it would mean to the fans.

“I’ve been here three seasons now and I’ve got to know the fans quite well.

“There is a real buzz around the club and around the town.”

Walsall reached the area final after a 5-4 penalty 
shoot-out victory at Tranmere last month.

They had trailed 2-0 in the game but fought back to level through goals from Anthony Forde and Michael Cain.

Previous to that, they had beaten Sheffield United at home and Rochdale away in the competition.

The Saddlers have had a mixed bag of results lately.

Their five league games since beating Tranmere in the JPT have seen two wins, two defeats and a draw.

They beat Barnsley 3-1 on December 13 and then drew 1-1 with Sheffield United. On Boxing Day they lost 4-1 at home to Swindon but then went to MK Dons 48 hours later and pulled off a fantastic 3-0 victory. On Saturday they were beaten 2-0 at home by Coventry.

Tom Bradshaw will carry Walsall’s main goal threat, the summer signing from Shrewsbury having found the net 14 times this term.

One of those goals came in September’s 3-1 win against Preston. Prior to Saturday, Bradshaw had scored five goals in four games.

Their next highest scorer is Romaine Sawyers with four goals, while Jordan Cook has three.