MATCH REPORT | Oxford United 0 Walsall 0 MATCH REPORT | Oxford United 0 Walsall 0

MATCH REPORT | Oxford United 0 Walsall 0

On New Year's Eve the Saddlers made their first ever trip to the Kassam Stadium where they took on Oxford United in the latest Sky Bet League One fixture of the season. We were in attendance, and our match report is below.
On New Year's Eve the Saddlers made their first ever trip to the Kassam Stadium where they took on Oxford United in the latest Sky Bet League One fixture of the season. We were in attendance, and our match report is below.

After an impeccably observed silence to remember those who we have lost in 2016, the Saddlers got our final match of the year underway, launching an early attack on the Oxford United goal, as Joe Edwards got the first shot of the game away; a dipping volley, which was an easy save for Simon Eastwood.  The hosts launched an early attack of their own from the goal-kick, which culminated in a side-footed effort from Chris Maguire from twenty yards out, being scuffed wide of goal. A bright start from both teams.

After a quieter spell as both teams looked to settle into the game, Oxford tested Neil Etheridge in the Walsall goal for the first time, as Rob Hall swung a dipping cross into the box which Kane Hemmings looked favourite to prod home. Fortunately for the Saddlers, Etheridge was alert and got to the ball just ahead of the Oxford man. Enjoying a good spell, the home side quickly launched another attack on the Walsall goal as Marvin Johnson found his way past Edwards before crossing into the middle, where James O'Connor was waiting to clear the danger.

The home side enjoyed the better chances as the match wore on, but Walsall limited their efforts to mostly speculative crossed shots, which Etheridge was easily able to contend with. In the sixteenth minute, Maguire and Johnson combined well down the left, creating a goal-scoring opportunity for Maguire, who fired a powerful effort over the bar.

The following ten minutes were dominated by spells of Oxford possession as the Saddlers struggled to keep the ball for any length of time. Fortunately for the visitors, the home side were unable to create much in front of goal. In the twenty fifth minute, United won the first corner of the game, which they played short, Maguire's cross finding Chey Dunkley who headed over. The ball took a deflection on it's way out, gifting the home side a second corner, which came to nothing.

As we reached the half hour mark, the Saddlers won a free-kick in a dangerous position, which Flo Cuvelier swung in with pace. O'Conner attempted to volley home at the back post but John Lundstram and Dunkley were eventually able to clear. Moments later, back at the other end, O'Connor was again involved as a shot came in from Hall, who looked certain to score, but for the Walsall man who was on hand to head the ball over the crossbar, four yards from the line. The resulting corner came to nothing.

Thirty seven minutes in, some good build-up play from Oxford, saw MacDonald and Hemmings combine to set up Ryan Ledson, whose driven twenty five yard effort was blocked by the knee of Kory Roberts. Moments later, enjoyed a rare decent spell on the ball, the Saddlers worked the ball forward, culminating in an off target effort from Amadou Bakayoko from a tight angle.

In the thirty ninth minute, Chey Dunkley became the first player booked following a trip on Simeon Jackson. Moments later, a mistake from Roberts, allowed Hemmings to get away down the left. O'Connor made an important interception to block his cross, and looked like he may also receive a caution from the referee for a foul on Hemmings, but was let off with a talking to.

As we raced towards half-time, United continued to pressure the Walsall goal, with Hall and Lundstram combining well in the area, before the ball was put out for a corner, which the Saddlers cleared. Seconds later, a twenty yard effort from Ledson was deflected wide for another corner, which the visitors also dealt with.

A goalless first period was brought to a halt after one additional minute had been played; the home side dominant during the opening forty five minutes, but unable to create many real chances.


The teams remained unchanged as United got the second half underway. The home side were awarded an early free-kick, thirty yards from goal, but Maguire's shot sailed harmlessly wide. Maguire was again involved a short time later, as he was picked out by Hemmings, but Roberts was on hand for the Saddlers to make a vital interception to halt his run.

Six minutes into the half, Hall did well to keep the ball in play and get a cross in, which Lundstram picked up and played to Lesdon, who curled an effort wide of the mark from twenty yards out. A short time later, Hall and Lundstram again combined to set up Maguire, who fired an effort straight into the waiting arms of Etheridge.

In the fifty sixth minute, Oxford made their first change of the afternoon, as Kane Hemmings made way for Ryan Taylor.

As we reached the hour mark, the Saddlers broke; Edwards bursting into the box and passing inside for Jackson, who fired over from the edge of the area. Moments later, the ball came to Edwards again, and after controlling with his chest, he fired a thirty five yard left-footed volley goal-wards, causing Eastwood to dive across goal to tip the ball wide. The resulting corner came to nothing, but some brighter play from the Saddlers on display.

In the sixty eighth minute, Scott Laird was the recipient of the games second yellow card, following a foul on Hall. The free-kick was taken by Hall and played short to Maguire, who fired a tame effort towards Etheridge, who gathered with ease.

In the seventy second minute, the Walsall bench opted to introduce some fresh faces, as Amadou Bakayoko and Flo Cuvelier left the field to be replaced by Erhun Oztumer and Kieron Morris. The Oxford bench also took the opportunity to make a second change to their line-up, as Rob Hall made way for Tyler Roberts.

Seconds after the changes were made, the Saddlers went close to opening the scoring, as Isaiah Osbourne's deflected effort brushed the side-netting. The match settled for a time, with both sides enjoying spells on the ball, without creating any real chances.

With just eight minutes of the ninety remaining, the home team made their third and final change of the afternoon, as Alex MacDonald was replaced by Joe Rothwell. Moments after the change, some good hold up play from Taylor allowed Maguire to get into position out wide, but his eventual shot could only find Etheridge.

The Walsall bench made their third and final change, bringing on Andreas Makris for the final three minutes, in place of Simeon Jackson.

Two minutes from time, Edwards broke into the box before firing an effort goal wards, taking a big deflection en route, but Eastwood reacted well to keep the ball out. As we headed into the final minute of normal time, the Saddlers broke again, as Oztumer worked his way into the box, before crossing the ball to Morris, whose deflected effort  was deflected wide of the far post. Walsall kept up the pressure on the Oxford goal, with Makris close to turning the ball home following a goalmouth scramble.

The hosts had the best of the chances in stoppage time, with Johnson firing a twenty yard effort straight at Etheridge, moments before Maguire set up Lundstram who fired a late shot over the bar as the final whistle blew. The final match of 2016, an enjoyable affair, but one which highlighted the need for players able to convert chances when they present themselves.

ATTENDANCE | 8,340 (684 Walsall)
REFEREE | Charles Breakspear (Surrey)
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