Following last night's '125th Anniversary Match' versus Aston Villa, Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams shares his Match Report.
Following last night's '125th Anniversary Match' versus Aston Villa, Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams shares his Match Report;

The stage was set at the Banks’s Stadium for a game considered by many to be a celebration of Walsall Football Club’s 125 year existence, with the visitors, Aston Villa, being the first side to face the Saddlers, back in 1888.

Both sides lined up with a typically mixed pre-season team sheet, Dean Smith opting to give youngsters like Keiron Morris, Ben George and Mal Benning a run out, against a strong Aston Villa side including the likes of Christian Benteke, and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

It was Villa that made by far the better start to the game, very early on a ball threaded through to Andreas Weimann looked threatening, but young Saddlers left-back Mal Benning was on hand to clear the danger.

More Villa pressure ensued, a free kick on the edge of the box was send over the crossbar by Karim El Ahmadi, before a ball across by Gabriel Agbonlahor found Weimann in space, only for him to scuff a weak shot wide of the left hand post.

Walsall were simply giving the premier league outfit too much time and space, and paid the price on the 9th minute. Nobody seemed to track the run of Fabian Delph, and when the Saddlers midfield backed off, he tried his luck from 20 yards out with a fierce strike, beating O’Donnell diving to his left, despite the keeper appearing to get a hand on the ball.

GOAL Walsall 0-1 Aston Villa (Delph 9’)

Villa continued to pressure, winning a string of corners soon afterwards, but without posing a threat to the Saddlers goal. The first Walsall attack came during this time, only for Craig Westcarr to find himself offside after a neat ball was played into him.

It was again more corners for the visitors in a period where the Walsall players had very little time to think, Agbonlahor trying his luck saw his shot blocked for a corner, with O’Donnell at full stretch. But it was the pacy striker who made a breakthrough. In fact, he managed break through the midfield and defence with a blistering run, before slotting the ball coolly between the keeper’s legs.

GOAL Walsall 0-2 Aston Villa (Agbonlahor 33’)

It took a matter of seconds after the kick off for Villa to regain possession, and when the ball was played into Christian Benteke, his curling that initially looked slightly optimistic, clipped the frame of the goal to the relief of a stranded Richard O’Donnell.

Walsall’s best chance of the first half came on the 40th minute, Villa shot stopper Jed Steer rolling the ball out a little too casually, allowing James Baxendale the chance to capitalise on the error. But he seemed to crack under the pressure, and his indecision was punished by the keeper, who gathered to avoid further embarrassment.

A final chance for Villa saw Benteke turn well in the box before firing over the bar, in a half where the Villains were certainly living up to their name, spoiling the Saddler’s 125th anniversary party, after a thoroughly dominant half!

H/T: Walsall 0-2 Aston Villa

The second half started with changes from both sides, the Saddlers fielding 10 fresh players, defender Ben George the only player to remain on the field. It was a slower start to this half than the first, Benteke with the first shot on goal after 6 minutes, forcing a save out of Saddlers substitute keeper Shane Lewis.

But soon after Villa were up to their old tricks again, good work down the right by Weimann allowed him to play the simplest of balls into Benteke, and the Belgian international had no hesitation in helping the ball into the back of the net, after having escaped his marker.

GOAL Walsall 0-3 Aston Villa (Benteke 52’)

The Saddlers then began to find their feet and, most importantly, the Villa half of the field. James McQuilkin found himself in space, and played a well angled ball over to Milan Lalkovic, who couldn’t make a connection, although he had been flagged offside anyway.

Villa then took off their ‘big guns’, sparking hope amongst Saddlers fans, that they could finally see a goal. They were right, but unfortunately, it again came at the wrong end. More suspect defending allowed Jack Grealish a free run on goal, and he didn’t disappoint, firing the ball low underneath the keeper. A composed finish by the youngster.

GOAL Walsall 0-4 Aston Villa (Grealish 67’)

Walsall’s Milan Lalkovic tried to made his mark on the game in the 74th minute, a promising run down the left saw him face Villa resistance, and when he fell to the floor like a sack of spuds, the referee clearly saw it that say too, and waved away any protests.

After that the game quietened down considerably, Lewis having to make a few simple saves, but most of the possession being fought in the middle of the park. That was until the 87th minute, which certainly woke up those still in the ground. A thunderbolt from 35 yards out by Gary Gardner caught everyone off guard, and found its way into the top corner of the goal to give Villa a 5th goal.

GOAL Walsall 0-5 Aston Villa (Gardner 87’)

There was just time for a final hurrah from the Saddlers, neat work in Villa’s half saw Chelsea loanee Milan Lalkovic find space, but his angled shot was well saved by the visiting number one, Brad Guzan.

In truth, this game was one in which the premier league side showed their class, and the Saddlers were outplayed throughout. Not the ideal way to celebrate a 125th anniversary, not that this result really means anything in the grand scheme of things. With Tranmere Rovers first game of the season on the horizon, that will be the focus for Dean Smith’s side.

In the words of The Enemy, in the song that sent the fans out of the ground at the end of the match ‘Saturday will make it all okay’.

F/T Walsall 0-5 Aston Villa (Delph 9’, Agbonlahor 33’, Benteke 52’, Grealish 67’, Gardner 87’)
ATT: 7720
REF: S, Martin

By: Calum Williams
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