REPORT: Walsall 1 Oldham Athletic 1 REPORT: Walsall 1 Oldham Athletic 1
Posted by: Bescot Banter

REPORT: Walsall 1 Oldham Athletic 1

Earlier today, Walsall Football Club played host to Oldham Athletic in the opening Sky Bet League 1 fixture of the season. Calum Williams was in attendance and shares his Match report below.
Earlier today, Walsall Football Club played host to Oldham Athletic in the opening Sky Bet League 1 fixture of the season. Calum Williams was in attendance and shares his Match report below.

It’s that time of the year again, a new season, high expectations, and a sunny Saturday at the Bescot Stadium. What better way to start the new campaign too, against the side the Saddlers saw off 2-0 in their last home league game, Oldham Athletic.

Two of the Saddlers three new boys were given their home league debuts, Neil Etheridge starting in goal, and Jason Demetriou on the right wing. Former loanee Milan Lalkovic was named only as a substitute.

The game was dedicated to the memory of Joel Richards, Adrian Evans, and Patrick Evans, the three Walsall fans killed in the terror attack in Tunisia. An emotional minutes silence was observed before kick-off, and more flowers left outside the ground to show respect for those killed. Oldham shirts were also left, a respectful gesture from the away fans.

Whilst united off the pitch, there was no time for niceties on it, with both teams wanting to make a good start to the new season, and both sets of fans in good voice. As expected it was a lively start from both sides, a short cross from Walsall’s Jason Demetriou found Jordan Cook, who was closed down quickly. At the other end a floating cross from the away side could only be palmed away by Neil Etheridge, before being blasted over the bar by former Wolves striker Jake Cassidy.

However, it was to be the perfect start for the Saddlers.  A break instigated by danger man Tom Bradshaw saw Romaine Sawyers pick up the ball in a promising position. Despite being chased by a couple of Oldham defenders, he managed to fire a thunderbolt into the top corner of the net, leaving Latics keeper Joel Coleman helpless.

GOAL: Walsall 1 (Sawyers) Oldham Athletic 0

The away side were keen to get back into the game, forcing the first corner of the match, and giving the Walsall number 1 a few crosses to deal with, but never really threatening on goal. Jake Cassidy was causing some problems for the home side at the back, and an attack he was involved in almost saw a penalty awarded by the referee. Defender Joseph Mills picked up the ball in an advanced position, but went down easily in the area. The referee almost put his whistle to his lips, but instead waved away his protests, much to the frustration of the Saddlers faithful, who would’ve probably preferred a free kick for simulation!

The visitors did look dangerous in possession, but failed to create anything in the goals department. They arguably came closest to finding an equalizer towards the end of the first half, courtesy of Walsall defender Paul Downing. He saw a cross from the left hand side deflect off his shin, fly just past the post, and out for a corner which was dealt with well.

Tom Bradshaw, the Walsall striker backed to have a fantastic season by many, looked hungry to get amongst the action. A shot by Sam Mantom was spilled by the Oldham goalkeeper, but the Welshman’s efforts to poke in the rebound were cancelled out by the linesman’s flag for offside. Soon after, his persistence almost paid dividends, as he blocked a clearance by the ‘keeper, and the ball flew over the Latics number one. But it wasn’t destined for the back of the net on this occasion.

In added time the away side would have one more bite of the cherry, a clever ball into Rhys Turner fooled Paul Downing at the back for the Saddlers, but Neil Etheridge was alert to close down the striker, who blazed the ball over the bar. 

HT: Walsall 1 Oldham Athletic 1

The second half saw a bright start from the home side, Tom Bradshaw with a run down the right hand side was fouled just outside the box to award Walsall a free kick. Andy Taylor saw Sam Mantom in space, and played an intelligent ball into the central midfielder, whose shot was blocked, and after a scramble in the penalty area, The Latics managed to clear the ball from danger.

Mantom was to be given another chance minutes later, Jason Demetriou bursting through and looking to inject some pace into an attack, laid off Mantom, who could only fire straight at Coleman in goal. Andy Taylor was also given another free kick opportunity on the edge of the area, this time he aimed towards the left hand corner. Despite Tom Bradshaw throwing himself towards the ball, the shot eluded everyone in the area, but also eluded the goal, just wide from the Saddlers left back.

But this pressure from Walsall wouldn’t last forever, and soon the visiting side clawed their way back into contention. Defender Joseph Mills tried his luck with a pile driver from long range, which stung the palms of Neil Etheridge, who parried the effort away from the goal well.

Paul Downing and James O’Connor had to work together on more than one occasion to clear away some dangerous build up play from The Latics, who really started to ask questions of Walsall’s new system of three at the back. Lee Croft amongst others were being given too much space and time on the ball, but reminiscent of the first half, Oldham’s periods of possession failed to create any meaningful opportunities to score.

Milan Lalkovic came on for Walsall with just under half an hour left to play, for his second league debut for the club. And with around 8 minutes of normal time to go, he would have a chance to seal victory for the Saddlers. He managed to escape his marker, before working his way around the goalkeeper. However the angle was tight, and he was closed down well by the defence, who quelled any threat.

Despite the Saddlers’ positive set up, they eventually crumbled at the back. Jake Cassidy who had been a worry all afternoon, put a low cross into the area. It was on a plate for substitute Jonathan Forte, who was left totally unmarked, and he did brilliantly to guide the ball past Neil Etheridge, who had looked solid between the sticks for the majority of the match.

GOAL: Walsall 1 Oldham Athletic 1 (Forte 83’)

That goal effectively signalled the end of the game, despite their being ten minutes on the clock. The visitors looked happy to settle for the draw, and the Saddlers didn’t really look like scoring after the disappointing late equalizer. If anyone would try their luck once more, you’d bank on it being Tom Bradshaw. He scuffed a shot off his fluorescent pink boots high into the Tile Choice Stand, and the three minutes of stoppage time signalled by the fourth official wouldn’t be enough for either side to salvage anything more than a point.

So it wasn’t to be the fairy-tale start to the season for Walsall, but most seemed content with a draw from the game, including manager Dean Smith in a post-match interview. It was good to see Romaine Sawyers getting off the mark with a superb strike, and he’ll certainly be hoping he can beat his tally of 5 goals from last season. Rico Henry and Jason Demetriou looked bright down the wings in a positive new 5-3-2 setup, which I personally welcome and believe it is the way to go, provided we can get the service into the likes of Tommy Bradshaw up front! But we have to be careful against teams that like to play on the break, as we can appear a little panicky at the back at times in my opinion... Overall, a relatively pleasing start to the season, albeit a little frustrating to concede so late on.

GOALS: Sawyers (8') - Forte (83')
ATT: 5,009 (991 Oldham Athletic)
REF: Mr Mark Brown (West Yorkshire)

BY: CALUM WILLIAMS | TWITTER: @calumwilliams18 
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