Following this afternoon's New Years Day victory over Sheffield United, Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams shares his Match Report.

Following this afternoon's New Years Day victory over Sheffield United, Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams shares his Match Report;
A wet and windy new year’s day saw two sides eager to get points on the board, the Saddlers to strengthen their promotion push, and the Blades to steer further clear of the relegation zone. The Saddlers fielded a familiar starting 11, although Troy Hewitt was preferred to Craig Westcarr up front, who started on the bench.

Sheffield United also started with a similar line up to the side that beat Tranmere Rovers in their last outing, only with Conor Coady replacing Jamie Murphy. That game saw The Blades notch an 8 game unbeaten run, and with The Saddlers looking to keep the pressure on at the top, this game promised to be an exciting fixture for all involved.

The game did indeed have a lively start, with both sides showing an attacking intent from the offset. A ball over the top by Paul Downing for Walsall that originally looked optimistic, found an onrushing Troy Hewitt, but he was closed down well by Harry Maguire in the United back line.

A subsequent free kick for the Saddlers was punched away by the United keeper, George Long, before falling to James Baxendale, who volleyed wide of the right hand post. Soon after the Blades caused problems at the other end, a ball whipped in by Tony McMahon could only be headed narrowly over the bar by the Saddlers defence, with both sides threatening on the break.

The Blades kept pressuring, a dangerous free kick had to be scrambled away, and soon after they made their breakthrough. After pushing high up the field, some neat play saw Chris Porter find space, and he made no hesitation in driving the ball into the top corner of the net, past Saddlers number one, Richard O’Donnell, with rain teeming down on the Banks’s Stadium.

GOAL Walsall 0 Sheffield United 1 (Porter 17’)

The following period would see Walsall get much more time on the ball, but with little to show for it. Paul Downing came closest with a header marginally wide of the left hand post, but appeals for a penalty were strongly voiced by the home crowd, after Andy Butler was held back, and prevented from moving into a goal scoring position.

And the Saddlers did pose a threat going forward despite their struggles, good play by Milan Lalkovic just past the half hour mark saw Romaine Sawyers pick up the ball with his back to goal, but his attempted back heeled shot was cleared away from danger

In truth, Walsall were missing the hold up play of Craig Westcarr in the first half, and the passing movement was largely predictable, allowing United to keep the Saddlers at bay, and eliminate any possible attacking threats. A quiet 15 minutes caused discontent amongst the home fans at the interval.

H/T: Walsall 0 Sheffield United 1

Walsall needed a Plan B, and it came from manager Dean Smith in the form of a half time substitution, Craig Westcarr who had been previously left out of the side, replacing James Baxendale. James Chambers demonstrated the new attitude of the Walsall side, breaking through the defence, but he made the wrong choice in trying to put the ball into the box instead of taking a shot, and the danger was averted by Sheffield United.

But they couldn’t stop the Saddlers from threatening, and the defence would crumble under the pressure only 6 minutes into the 2nd half. Attacking play from the Saddlers saw captain Andy Butler pulled down in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot, to the joy of the home fans. It would be Westcarr to take the penalty, having joined the action as a sub. Westcarr had converted in his last two games against United, and he didn’t disappoint in this one, sliding the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the goal, and sending the keeper George Long the wrong way.

GOAL: Walsall 1 (Westcarr PEN 52’) Sheffield United 1

United went in search of an immediate response, a quick break saw a Jose Baxter shot fired towards goal, but straight at keeper Richard O’Donnell, who parried the ball away with relative ease. Not long after, Walsall went on their own break, but made theirs count. A brilliant ball threaded through by Sam Mantom found Walsall right back James Chambers, who finished well, despite a small touch from the keeper.

GOAL: Walsall 2 (J Chambers 62’) Sheffield United 1

This score line would provoke cries of ‘Brandy, what’s the score?’ from the Saddlers faithful, still bitter at the departure of one of their leading playmakers of last season, who started on the bench for the Blades. The visitors did start to work a way back into the game, a burst into the box by United full back Stephen McGinn being well defended by Saddlers Skipper, Andy Butler.

Milan Lalkovic continued to be lively for Walsall, although the home side did have to ride an attacking storm for much of the last half an hour. James Chambers worked hard to cut out a United break with two smart challenges, but the Blades’ front line were eager to find an equaliser, substitute Shaun Miller missing the target, after his shot evaded the grasp of an outstretched O’Donnell.

Shortly after, more attacking play from the Blades saw Ryan Flynn brought down riskily in the box by Andy Taylor, but the referee let play continue. It seemed clear that the Saddlers needed to slow down the play, and quell any threat from the opposition going forward. Paul Downing played his part in blocking any service from the United wingers.

And Walsall certainly did get back into the game, with the addition of Julian Gray on as a substitute. The 34 year old winger could’ve, and probably should’ve wrapped up the game for his side with 10 minutes left on the clock, a ball in by Romaine Sawyers found him perfectly, but after getting in front of his man, his shot whistled past Long’s left had post.

And the Saddlers continued to attack, a curling shot from the edge of the area by Milan Lalkovic was well saved by the opposing keeper, before the resulting corner was hooked off the line by the Blades defence.

The addition of Febian Brandy to the fray was met with an extremely hostile reception from the home fans, but he failed to make a sufficient impact for his side. 5 minutes of added time might have suggested a nervy ending to the game, but all United could create was a missed attempt on goal by Shaun Miller, before the referee put his whistle to his lips, to signal the end of an entertaining second half.

This had been a very successful day for the Saddlers, the win broke United’s 8 game unbeaten run, and was also the first time Walsall have come back from a losing position this season, following heartbreak in the final minute of last week’s game against Gillingham. Man of the match was given, rightly in my opinion, to Walsall right back James Chambers, who had been reliable at the back, whilst also scoring the winning goal.

That goal helped Walsall climb to 7th in the table, one point off the promotion places, whilst leaving the Blades in an opposite position, 1 point off the relegation zone, and still in a precarious position. The Saddlers can now enjoy a small break before returning to duty on the 11th January, with a game at Prenton Park, the home of Tranmere Rovers. 

F/T: Walsall 2 Sheffield United 1
(Westcarr PEN 52'. J Chambers 62') - (Porter 17')
Attendance: 5, 015
Referee: Lee Collins, Surrey.

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