MATCH REPORT | Walsall 1 Gillingham 2

On Saturday afternoon Jon Whitney's Saddlers played host to Gillingham in the latest Sky Bet League One fixture of the season. We were in attendance, and our match report is below.
On Saturday afternoon Jon Whitney's Saddlers played host to Gillingham in the latest Sky Bet League One fixture of the season. We were in attendance, and our match report is below.

Gillingham's Bradley Dack got the match underway at a chilly Banks's stadium, and just two minutes into the game, after some poor defending from the Saddlers, he set up Cody McDonald, who nodded the ball over Walsall 'keeper, Neil Etheridge, from close range to give the visitors an early lead.

Five minutes after the opening goal, the visitors had a chance to double their advantage, as Dack again got involved, setting up Jay Emmanuel-Thomas whose shot from thirty yards was just a little too high, sailing harmlessly over the bar. The visitors definitely the team on top during the opening few minutes.

It took the Saddlers just seven minutes to find an equaliser, as  Jason McCarthy darted into the box, blocked a defensive clearance from Baily Cargill and slotted the ball past Stuart Nelson in the Gills goal. A fantastic individual effort getting Walsall back into the game quickly.

As we neared the quarter-hour mark, the Saddlers almost took the lead, as a Scott Laird cross from the left-wing found the head of former Gills player, Simeon Jackson. Jackson's headed effort had just too much on it and cleared the bar. Two minutes later, Walsall saw another chance go begging as a Joe Edward's cross found it's way into the box. Erhun Oztumer diverted the ball goal-wards, but put too much height on it and it sailed over the bar.

Eighteen minutes in, Etheridge was tested, as a powerful Billy Knott free-kick into the box put him under pressure, but the Walsall shot-stopper was able to get a fist to it and punched the ball clear. Moments later, the Walsall defences were again called into action as a low twenty five yard effort was fired in by Jake Hessenthaler. The Saddlers defences stood firm and were able to deal with the danger.

As we reached the twenty five minute mark, the Saddlers won a free-kick in a dangerous area, which Josh Ginnelly whipped into the box. Kevin Toner was waiting at the back post but headed the ball over. Walsall won the ball back quickly after a tame Gillingham attack, and Oztumer fired a left-footed shot in from distance. His effort appeared to be on target, but took a deflection off Max Ehmer. Nelson made an impressive double save to keep out a well-worked Walsall corner, and Oztumer was unlucky not to score as he flicked the ball in at the near post, but a free-kick was awarded and the Gills regained possession.

The visitors almost regained their early lead as we reached the half-hour mark, as Emmanuel-Thomas fired a shot in from twenty five yards. McCarthy was on hand for the Saddlers to block the effort, which rebounded into the path of Knott, whose twenty yard effort flashed just over the bar.

Ten minutes before the break, the Gills won a corner as Emmanuel-Thomas played in Scott Wagstaff, who crossed the ball into the box, where it took a deflection. The corner was well-worked and eventually fell to Gills captain Josh Wright, but his low shot was blocked. Five minutes later, back at the other end, the Saddlers won a corner of their own as Ehmer prevented Jackson getting a close range header on target. Paul Konchesky got his head to the ball first from the flag-kick and cleared the danger for his team.

There was a brief stoppage in play shortly before the interval, as Knott was felled in the centre of the pitch. After taking a few moments to recover, he was able to continue.

Two additional minutes were awarded as the Saddlers launched an attack which saw the ball cleared off the line by the visitors, as the home team looked certain to take a lead into the break. Superb defending enough to ensure the teams went in level.


Both teams remained unchanged as Walsall got the second half underway. The Saddlers started the half brightly and just three minutes in an Oztumer cross looked promising, but Wright was on hand to block and the ball bounced off a Walsall player and out for a goal-kick.

Five minutes into the half, a lovely cross into the box, found Jackson, who headed wide under pressure from Ehmer. The Saddlers continued to hunt a second goal, and moments later, the ball was worked to Edwards who fired high over the bar. The home side continued to dominate the opening spell of the second half, with Franck Moussa setting up Oztumer firing a powerful effort in from twenty five yards, which sailed just wide of goal.

The visitors won a corner in the fifty third minute, which Dack swung into the box, but Etheridge was alert and able to gather with ease, allowing the Saddlers to break once more, but Oztumer's effort from twenty yards flew well wide of the mark. Seconds later, the ball came to Jackson who headed down into the path of the onrushing Edwards, who fired a low effort in, which sailed just wide of the post.

With twenty five minutes still to play, a cross from Edwards picked out Moussa in the box, but Moussa's looping header was easily caught by Nelson. Some good build up play on show from the two Walsall men though. Five minutes later, the hosts won a corner which was played in by Ginnelly who picked out Laird. Laird got his head to the ball and turned it goal-wards, but his effort was cleared off the line. Walsall sure that the ball was handled, but the referee waved play on and the match continued.

With seventy two minutes on the clock, the first yellow card of the day was awarded to Max Ehmer for a foul, as the visitors made their first substitutions of the day. Bradley Dack and Billy Knott, who had both had busy afternoons, making way for Emmanuel Osadebe and Mark Byrne.

With ten minutes of the match remaining, Jackson looked to be through on goal for the Saddlers, but Ehmer was alert and able to clear the danger. Back at the other end, a foul on Wright on the edge of the box saw the visitors awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position. Emmanuel-Thomas blasted the free-kick goal-wards, and after taking a deflection en-route, the ball found it's way into the back of the net.

After an impressive second half performance, the Saddlers found themselves a goal down with ten minutes to play. The goal seemed to take some of the tempo out of the Walsall performance and the chances all but dried up. With eighty six minutes on the clock, the home side made their first change of the afternoon as  Frank Moussa was replaced by Florent Cuvelier, and a minute later they made their second change, with Amadou Bakayoko taking the place of Joe Edwards.

Two minutes from time, Jackson got on the end of a Ginnelly cross and fired a spectacular overhead effort goal-wards from ten yards, but his shot cleared the bar, and despite three additional minutes being played, that was the last real action of the game. The visitors taking all three points home with them, after some impressive play from Walsall which ultimately just wasn't enough.

GOALS | McCarthy (9') - McDonald (2'), Emmanuel-Thomas (84')
REFEREE | Mr. John Busby

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