A sunny Bescot Stadium welcomed two sides in great need of points for very different reasons, the soaring Saddlers looking to keep their play-off bid alive, and the sinking Shrews looking to avoid a relegation dog fight, as the end of the season looms.
The Saddlers set up as expected, with James Chambers returning at right back, and Craig Westcarr preferred to James Baxendale on the right wing. Shrewsbury lined up with David McAllister in midfield after his red card against Doncaster Rovers was overturned, and were captained by Matt Richards, a familiar face at the Bescot, playing regularly for Walsall across a 3 year period from 2009-11.
The game began with both sets of fans very vocal, over 1,000 Shrewsbury Town supporters had been packed into the away end, and security was high due to the game’s ‘local derby’ status. The Saddlers were looking to exact revenge after a 1-0 defeat at The Greenhous Meadow last season, and Jamie Paterson seemed keen to show off his skill early on with some neat play, as the Saddlers acquired a string of corners early on.
The first real chance came after just 10 minutes, a high kick on Adam Chambers who had committed himself to the header earned Walsall a free kick just outside the area, but Andy Taylor’s low drive bobbled its way towards goalkeeper Chris Weale, who gathered the ball at the second attempt, with Febian Brandy looking to pounce on a potential rebound.
The Shrews began to make sloppy mistakes on a pitch still cut up, but in better condition than it was against Notts County a fortnight ago. They did however go in search of the opening goal and were close to doing so when Matt Richards played the ball in to Town’s big number 10 Marvin Morgan, but he couldn’t get a clean connection on the ball, and Walsall defender Andy Taylor did well to quell the danger.
The Shrews were tight at the back in the first 20 minutes, and came even closer to making the breakthrough when a set piece was curled in towards loanee Tom Eaves, and when a shot eventually tested Aaron McCarey in the Saddlers goal, he sprung to his right to make the save at full stretch, and keep the game at 0-0.
The game came to life with half an hour gone, when Saddler’s silky striker Febian Brandy worked his way past numerous defenders with some mesmerising footwork. When he was brought down in the area, the referee had no hesitation in awarding the Saddlers a penalty.
Shrews’ fans felt aggrieved, Brandy appeared to go down easily, but the Saddlers didn’t care one bit. It was the breakthrough they needed, and the lead was secured from the spot by an ever reliable Will Grigg, to net his 15th goal of the season.
GOAL Walsall 1 (Grigg PEN 30') Shrewsbury Town 0
Just minutes later, on form Grigg could have doubled the lead, after some neat build up play involving Craig Westcarr, he rounded the keeper, but his shot from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Rob Edwards, to deny Grigg his brace.
The game turned into an exciting match, both teams searching for another much needed goal. The Shrews weren’t clinical enough going forward, but were able to stop the Saddlers from securing a two goal cushion. Their only chance before the break came when Saddlers defender Andy Butler conceded a foul on the edge of the box, but the skipper was there to head out the cross from Matt Richards.
A good first half for Walsall, who offered plenty going forward, although it seemed apparent that another goal would be needed in the second half to really put the Saddlers in the driving seat.
H/T: Walsall 1 Shrewsbury Town 0
These were clearly similar to the words of Walsall boss Dean Smith in the dressing room during the interval, as the Saddlers got off to a flying start in the second period. A dangerous cross played in by James Chambers forced Town keeper Chris Weale to make a connection, but his strong hand was only enough to send the ball up into the air.
After some scrapping in the box, Walsall’s Craig Westcarr poked the ball in, despite the efforts of plenty Shrews defenders trying to clear it on the line. His first goal in Walsall red and a goal that gave the Saddlers an all important two goal cushion.
GOAL Walsall 2 (Westcarr 47') Shrewsbury Town 0
More fantastic football from the Saddlers involved the goalscorer seven minutes later. He linked up superbly with midfield man Adam Chambers, and after the Shrews defenders halted an initial surge forwards, the ball fell to Will Grigg.
No less than the Saddlers fans expected, he pulled off an exquisite finish past Chris Weale, and celebrated with the jubilant fans in the Tile Choice Stand. That, his 16th of the campaign, to put his name firmly amongst the list of the leagues top scorers.
GOAL Walsall 3 (Grigg 54') Shrewsbury Town 0
The terrific trio of Will Grigg, Febian Brandy and Jamie Paterson really were proving their worth, and the Shrews were still being limited to a couple of tame efforts at goal, Tom Eaves on loan from Bolton Wanderers heading wide, after Town made two changes in a bid to make a late comeback.
The Shrews did indeed pull one back, after weathering another Saddlers storm. Good work down the right from Cameron Gale was eventually Walsall’s undoing, his ball into the area found an unmarked David McAllister, who headed into a virtually open goal, with Aaron McCarey stranded.
GOAL Walsall 3 Shrewsbury Town 1 (McAllister 77’)
The Saddlers then went in search of a fourth goal to end the game for good. A corner whipped in from the left eventually found its way to Andy Butler, and the skipper’s header dipped just over the crossbar, although Weale appeared to have it covered.
The Shrews were eager to get back into the game however, setting up a nervy final ten minutes. A corner with around five minutes to go ended up in the back of the net, only for the linesman to rule offside, as Aaron McCarey was alert to the danger.
Nicky Featherstone came on for the final few minutes for Walsall, as both teams began to tire, and the Saddlers opted to ‘keep ball’ tactics in order to see the game out. Febian Brandy was subbed off to a round of applause from the Saddlers fans, the man subsequently named a sponsors Man of the Match, the other sponsor awarding the accolade to fellow striker Will Grigg.
A final Shrews chance came in the final minute of the game, but the offside flag was again raised, and the referee blew his whistle for the final time, to signal the end of another fantastic win for the Saddlers.
The 3-1 score line probably flattered the Saddlers just slightly, Town were in the game throughout, the penalty given was dubious, and the Saddlers second goal was a scrappy tap in, that would have frustrated the traveling fans.
But when Walsall are not fully dominating games, and still coming away with a 3-1 victory, the signs that the scintillating Saddlers could be promotion contenders come the end of the season are clear for all to see!
Will Grigg and Febian Brandy really are becoming the envy of many teams in the league, with winger Jamie Paterson also on fine form, and improving with every game he plays. With 31 goals between them this season, it’s not hard to understand why, and Walsall will do well to hold on the three of them for next season.
A slip up by Coventry at home to Swindon Town allows Walsall to move up to 8th in the league, just 5 points off 6th placed Tranmere Rovers, who will visit the Bescot Stadium in 10 days time, whilst Shrewsbury slip to 18th and ever closer into the dreaded trap of relegation.
F/T: Walsall 3 (Grigg PEN 30’ & 54’ Westcarr 47’) Shrewsbury Town 1 (McAllister 77’)
REF: C, Berry
By: Calum Williams