Following Saturday afternoons fixture Vs Milton Keynes Dons guest Calum Williams shares his Match Report;
Walsall started the game on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Banks’s Stadium, in the hope of repeating their impressive 1-0 away win against MK Dons on the final game of last season, the Saddlers’ first victory at Stadium MK since April 2009. The Saddlers started in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with striker George Bowerman getting another deserved start up front, and young midfielder James Baxendale getting his home debut at the Banks’s Stadium.
Walsall started the game with an attacking intent, the first shot coming on the 5th minute from central midfielder Nicky Featherstone leading to cries of ‘Handball’ around the stadium, or which referee Patrick Miller ignored. After what looked to be a good start from the Saddlers, Florent Cuvelier playing an influential role in the heart of the midfield, the Dons moved forward for their first meaningful attack of the game. A low cross into the box saw keeper David Grof spill, but a vital interception on the line from right back Ben Purkiss saw the score remain 0-0.
Walsall then continued the confident, attacking football manager Dean Smith has encouraged with his new-look side, a cutting ball from Florent Cuvelier saw the Dons clear for a corner, only for keeper David Martin to make an easy catch. But then on the 18th minute, after lively midfielder James Baxendale won another Saddlers corner, the ball fell to full back Dean Holden, who made a weak headed connection on the ball, which was enough to creep into the bottom left hand corner, despite the Dons defender’s best efforts to clear.
MK Dons were keen to make an immediate response, and did so straight from their kick off. An attack took the Saddlers defence by surprise, David Grof first making a smart save to his left, before he watched helplessly as the ball rattled the post from another powerful shot, as the defence struggled to clear. As the Saddlers looked to gain more control over the game, fans began chanting ‘there’s only one Matty Gadsby’, a tribute to the former Walsall man who sadly passed away at the age of just 27, on the day before the sixth anniversary of his death. His family were at the game, hoping to raise funds for the charity CRY (Cardiac Risk In The Young)
Back to the Football, and both sides seemed eager to gain control over the game. A Dons corner saw a headed effort fly harmlessly out of play for a Saddlers goal kick, before Walsall appeared to be back into control, a smart counter attack earning a corner at the other end, which MK Dons dealt with well.
From then on, the game was relatively even through to the half time whistle, Saddlers skipper Andy Butler putting in an impressive performance at the back, whilst midfielders James Baxendale and Nicky Featherstone also looked sharp. The final notable action of the first half, came a few minutes later when MK keeper David Martin rushed 40 yards out of his goal to meet a ball whipped in by Florent Cuvelier, Jamie Paterson failed to convert his lobbed attempt, after being forced wide by the defence. The Saddlers held out to half time, despite some late pressure from the visitors. Ryan Lowe failing to convert a shot, and receiving a fair amount of abuse from the Saddlers faithful behind the goal.
HT: Walsall 1 MK Dons 0
The start of the second half set us up for what was to come in the final 45 minutes, MK Dons starting bright, pushing players upfield, and forcing the Saddlers defence back deep into their own half. Walsall were able to deal with a fair amount of pressure, before the Saddlers went forward for the first time in the half. Striker George Bowerman winning a free kick on the edge of the box, only to be wasted by Winger Ashley Hemmings.
MK continued to look dangerous on the counter attack, Dean Holden making a defensive clearance, before Darren Potter headed off target. Opportinuties came thick and fast, Walsall’s Jamie Paterson creating space for an angled shot narrowly missing to the left of the goal, followed by another Dons attack, leading to what appeared to be an unfair challenge on Walsall keeper David Grof, which clearly wasn’t seen by the referee. Frustration was beginning to show, the Saddlers fans worried at their lack of ball possession, whilst Dons fans became concerned that for all their time on the ball, they were failing to break down the Saddlers defence, which continued to look strong. The Dons brought on Charlie McDonald, Jay O’Shea and former Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester United midfielder Alan Smith, whilst James Baxendale received a standing ovation from Saddlers fans after being replaced by Jake Jones on the 76th minute, following an impressive display from the youngster.
Walsall players and fans were resigned to the fact that they would be facing a tough final ten minutes to keep the Dons at bay. An effort from a Dons corner on the 80th minute skimmed the crossbar, followed by pile drivers from Jay O’Shea and Shaun Williams, which were both off target. Ashley Hemmings received a healthy applause for his performance, after being replaced by Richard Taundry, on the 86th minute. The Saddlers continued to defend well, Dean Holden playing a vital part in the defence, new man Andy Taylor also impressing at left back.
For all the Dons pressure they were unable to convert any of their chances, as the two sides played through five minutes of added time. A tactical substitution saw Aaron Williams come on for Walsall for the final few minutes, replacing George Bowerman. A late Saddlers attack saw youngster Jake Jones scuff a chance after keeper David Martin had strayed off his line. Milton Keynes Defender Jon Otsemobor provided the final effort on goal, again firing high and wide into the Dons fans behind the goal, and that was that.
As referee Patrick Miller blew his whistle to signal the end of the game, there was a huge cheer from the Walsall fans, who watched yet another impressive display from their side against a strong MK Dons outfit. In truth, this game could have gone either way, but because of a very impressive display from the Saddlers defence, MK Dons were unable to put the ball into the back of the net. 3 well earned points for Walsall, that see them climb to 9th in the league, incidentally, a place above The Milton Keynes Dons. 8 points from their first 5 games, a solid start for the Saddlers.
FT: Walsall 1 (Holden 17') Milton Keynes Dons 0
REF: Patrick Miller
MOTM: Nicky Featherstone
My Man of the Match: Dean Holden
By: Calum Williams