Following Sunday afternoon's npower League One clash with Preston North End, columnist Berian Lowe shares his Match Report.
Following Sunday afternoon's npower League One clash with Preston North End, columnist Berian Lowe shares his Match Report;

Snow had started falling at Deepdale as the Saddler's prepared to take on Preston North End, who before Kick-off found themselves a place and a point below the Saddlers in League one.

Nothing really shocked me regarding the starting line up, with two forced changes being made. Baxendale come in for Westcarr, who's impressive loan spell ended last week. The other change was forced after Darlow was recalled for a second time this season, as he helped Nottingham Forest defeat Peterborough 2-1 yesterday. It looked likely that Grof may actually have started as the weekend went on, but news trickled in Sunday morning that Smith had signed another goalkeeper on loan, nobody was surprised.

Walsall started the game brightly, when Mal Benning looked inspired by his new deal he recently signed, as he made a run down the left hand side and found Paterson who's deflected shot gave Walsall a chance from a Corner. A decent ball in by Mantom saw Butler's trademark header tipped over by the Preston 'keeper. Walsall showed there inconsistency in providing decent balls into the box from corner kicks as the next corner was tamely floated and cleared away with ease.

The next bit of action saw Preston attack, Joe Garner found his way through with plenty of space down the right, but was quickly closed down by the covering Benning who forced him away from the goal and the effort went whistling over the bar.

The Preston fans were appealing for a penalty when Beavon managed to find his way past Butler and get the ball in the box. As the ball arrived Garner was felled by Downing, the referee looked over to his assistant before waving play to continue. In my eyes Walsall were lucky, the officials were too busy watching the ball being delivered in to rather than what was happening inside the box.

There was a tense atmosphere in the ground for the home fans, who were probably still feeling the heartache of Thursday night where they were cruelly denied a trip to Wembley in the JPT as Coventry snatched 2 goals deep into injury time.

Things got worse for them as Walsall broke on the counter, with Grigg superbly twisting and turning is way up top and finding Brandy who duly fired home and wheeled off to show the Preston fans his signature goal celebration, he had been practising over the Christmas period.

Preston's best chance of the half came when former Walsall loanee Lee Holmes' effort looked to be going right in the bottom corner. Ian McLaughlin was at full stretch as he impressively managed to tip it round the post.

Walsall looked pretty comfortable in the opening half hour. The defence was looking as solid as it as done all season, and they seemed to making a few decent goalscoring opportunities. The next was when Baxendale, who was making his first start for the Saddlers since November, burst forward. Preston 'keeper, Stuckmann, soon found himself in no man's land as he came off his line, but didn't commit himself as he attempted to back pedal. Baxendale looked to lob him, but his cheeky attempt landed agonisingly wide of the post.

Paterson out wide has been going from strength to strength recently and that was no exception today, he managed to pick out the hungry Baxendale who despite having a couple of Preston defenders pressuring him managed to get his shot away from the edge of the box. The Preston fans sighed with relief though as the shot found itself going just the wrong side of the post.

The Saddlers felt a little hard done by, when Brandy burst through on goal, but the referee failed to play advantage, has he blew for a free-kick to the Saddlers. A poor clearance from that resulting free kick saw Adam Chambers ping the ball back into the area where Paul Downing met it with a glancing header and saw him score his first ever senior goal.

As a comfortable first half for the Saddlers came to a close it was no surprise the fans rushed to the concourse in the attempt of having a warm up. It was bitterly cold in the north west.

H/T: Preston North End 0 Walsall 2

© 2013 Bescot Banter / Berian Lowe

As the interval came to an end, as quickly as they rushed in, the Walsall fans rushed back out as they hoped for more of the same in the second half.

Walsall came out the blocks for the second half as confidently as they came out the for the first. Grigg who's ball control had been causing problems for the Lilywhites all afternoon, turned again and got a shot away, which was saved and as it rebounded out looked to hit the hand of a Preston defender. The Saddler's appealed but the referee looked on with nothing unto do.

Ten minutes after the restart, the Walsall fans were jumping around on their feet once again, when Grigg capitalised on some bad defending and found Baxendale who was screaming for the ball on the edge of the box. The ball itself was then sent screaming into the top corner of the net. Fantastic goal, which basically summed up the Saddler's performance on the day.

Walsall had now turned from some brilliant counter play to making the game as frustrating and at times as scrappy as possible for Preston. This tactic looked to be working fine. On the ball the Saddlers kept it well, but when it looked like we were going to give the ball away, we'd float it up deep into the Preston half for a throw. Preston would try to start by passing by from the back, but some decent pressuring meant their only option was to hoof the ball up the pitch, where the Saddlers would pick possession back up, and start again. Brilliant.

A free kick from Lee Holmes would provide North End with a rare opportunity to have a shot at goal. The Saddler's fans know all about Holmes' technique from these from his time on loan to us from Derby. A brilliant effort was denied by the debutant keeper.

Before the game, I thought that we'd miss Westcarr today, and at times I think we did, we didn't hold the ball up as much as we do when Westcarr is on the pitch. I'd think we'd struggle with long balls today to but Walsall did really well in the air, Brandy and Grigg both won their fair share of headers.

Have to mention Preston's second substitution. Jack King off Cummings on. You can't write this stuff!

With just over 10 minutes to go Walsall made their first sub, Baxendale received a standing ovation from the Saddler's faithful, for the part he had played as he was replaced by Ashley Hemmings.

Walsall nearly got a forth after Brandy dispossessed a defender before finding Grigg who skied it. I'm pretty sure that if the game wasn't 3-0 he would of composed himself a little better and took an extra touch before finishing it. But confidence got the better of him!

Next it was Grigg and Brandy's time for a standing ovation as they were replaced by James Chambers and Bowerman. The two have been instrumental in Walsall new found form.

Preston fans had something to cheer about in stoppage time, but it didn't necessarily mean they did. A scrappy goal looked to have gone in via the bar as Wright nodded home for Preston. A little disappointing we couldn't keep a clean sheet, but doesn't mar the quality of the performance.

F/T: Preston North End 1 (Wright 90+2) Walsall 3 (Brandy 18' Downing 38' Baxendale 56')
REFEREE: Carl Boyeson

By: Berian Lowe
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