Posted by: Bescot Banter


Earlier this evening Walsall Football Club played host to local rivals Aston Villa in the Saddlers' final home pre-season fixture ahead of the 2014/15 Sky Bet League One season. Below is Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams' Match Report.
Earlier this evening Walsall Football Club played host to local rivals Aston Villa, in the Saddlers' final home pre-season fixture, ahead of the 2014/15 Sky Bet League One season. Below is Bescot Banter columnist Calum Williams' Match Report.

It was a familiar pre-season friendly this evening that saw an Aston Villa side similar to that which put 5 goals past the Saddlers in their last encounter, face a Walsall side full of youth players looking to make themselves known. Trialist Danny Webber was a face Saddlers fans have become accustomed to during this pre-season campaign, he started on the bench with a second trialist, Billy Clifford of Chelsea, put into Walsall’s starting XI.

The game got off to a fairly quick start, Gabby Agbonlahor looking keen to fire his team ahead early on began a mazy run, which ended with a drive from El Ahmadi, but he was closed down well by the Walsall defence.

Villa maintained the pressure in the early stages, almost scoring soon after from a set piece. A corner whipped in from the left found the head of centre back Clarke, who was denied by what initially seemed to be a smart save by Saddlers keeper Richard O’Donnell. However he couldn’t hold on to the ball, and some alert defending was required to block the attempts of two players both trying to bundle the ball in.

The Saddlers did seem to have the game under control despite having to withstand some early pressure, and even carved out a few opportunities of their own. A cross by youngster Mal Benning found Ashley Grimes in the middle, who controlled the ball well, but ballooned his shot over the bar on the half volley.

Shortly after, Walsall number 9 Tom Bradshaw won a corner for his side, which saw Paul Downing presented with a free header in the area, but he couldn’t direct his attempt towards goal. A lapse of concentration for the visitors which could have been costly.

But they weren’t deterred, and continued to pose a threat going forwards with the ball. A free kick won by Delph on the edge of the box was taken by El Ahmadi, whose shot curved towards goal, but skimmed the outside of O’Donnell’s left hand post, with the keeper at full stretch.

A player that stood out for me in the Walsall starting line-up, was trialist Clifford. He looked assured on the ball, and contributed to some good build-up play, and helping to win back possession for his side on numerous occasions.

But despite the best efforts of the home side, it was the Premier League visitors who took the lead on 28 minutes. A free kick by Kieron Richardson bobbled around the box, and after some scrapping and swinging of legs, the ball fell to Alan Hutton, who took no risks, blasting the ball into the back of the net from point blank range.

GOAL: Walsall 0 Aston Villa 1 (Hutton 28’)

The Villains used the goal to give them a boost of motivation, and the Saddlers soon had to weather several storms. A corner 4 minutes later found the head of Gabby Agbonlahor who directed his header inches wide, and a through ball soon after cut straight through the Walsall back line, almost meeting the outstretched leg of Alan Hutton looking for his second goal, but he couldn’t quite make a connection.

Nevertheless the home side kept their composure at the back, and had a few more chances before the break to equalise as well. A free kick from Romaine Sawyers was fired straight into the wall, but managed to creep through into the path of Paul Downing who had ghosted in past the defence, and although he got a toe to the ball, keeper Guzan closed him down well to keep his side in the lead.

A final drive into row Z from youngster Kinsella would wrap up first half proceedings. A score line with just the one goal may suggest a dull affair, but both sides put in a decent performance, and Walsall manager Dean Smith would’ve been content with his side’s performance at the break.

H/T: Walsall 0 Aston Villa 1

The start of the second half promised plenty more action, with a Walsall chance soon after the kick off. A great ball into Danny Webber found him in some space, but thankfully for him he was spared his blushes for what would have been a poor miss, with an offside flag from the linesman. The Walsall side was completely different to the first half, excluding trialist Clifford, who remained on the field.

El Ahmadi for Aston Villa had numerous opportunities in the first half to get his name on the team sheet, but he continued his search to no avail, with a powerful drive directed straight at Saddlers substitute keeper Craig MacGillivray.

Fabian Delph was another player who looked odds on to score for the visiting side, but another powerful drive from the Villa number 16 was directed just wide of the right hand post. Further chances were wasted by both sides, first by Walsall’s Amadou Bakayoko sending a tame effort into the hands of Brad Guzan with options in the box, and later by Villa defender Senderos, who connected well with a cross, but really should have done better with a header under very little pressure in the box.

From then on the game turned into a less exciting affair, with a lot of battles occurring in the centre of the field, and only long range efforts from both sides in terms of going forward. The only notable chance in the final 20 minutes or so, was a Villa corner which found a man at both the near post and the far post, the latter of which was aimed towards goal. But the attempt was scooped off the line by a Walsall defender who I believe was Rowley, to keep the score at 1-0.

From a Saddlers perspective, this game was a huge improvement on the performance in the same fixture last season. The defence looked much tighter and more organised, and the young players didn’t seem intimidated by the quality of opposition they were facing. Trialists Webber and Clifford put in good performances as the start of the season looms large, with Bradford City just 11 days away. If this game is anything to go by, in my opinion for what it’s worth, Walsall should have another solid season ahead of them.

F/T: Walsall 0 Aston Villa 1 (Hutton 28')
MOTM: Liam Kinsella (Walsall)
ATT: 6,559 (3,837 away)

By: Calum Williams.
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