Match Report: Walsall 1 Aston Villa 4
Here is our Match Report from Tuesday evening's pre-season friendly between Walsall and visitors, Aston Villa.
Dean Keates' Saddlers arrived at this evening's match on the back of Saturday's three-nil defeat to Gary Rowett's recently-relegated Stoke City. The match, which also took place at Banks's Stadium, saw highly-rated Saddlers defender Kory Roberts suffer a season-threatening double leg break and will no doubt have given the gaffer plenty of sleepless nights.

The match got off to a fairly even start, with both sides seeing plenty of the ball, but just three minutes in, Aston Villa took the lead thanks to a good cross from Ritchie De Laet who picked out Conor Hourihane whose side-footed shot deflected past Chris Dunn in the Walsall goal to put the visitors ahead.

The visiting side continued to look the more dangerous, but Walsall almost drew level in the eighth minute when Maz Kouhyar found Kieron Morris with a neat cross into the box, but the winger was unable to keep his shot on target, dragging the ball wide.

As the game progressed, the action became confined largely to the midfield area, with Aston Villa enjoying good spells of possession, without creating anything to test the Saddlers. In the seventeenth minute, the visitors won the first corner of the game, which was played shot to Hourihane but Dunn was equal to it and cleared the danger.

With twenty-two minutes on the clock, the Villans extended their lead, as Hourihane scored his third goal in two games, finding space to shoot from twenty-five yards as he sent a curling effort sailing into the top corner.

The visiting side almost made it three-nil in the twenty sixth minute, but a desire to walk the ball in allowed the Saddlers time to recover from the break to deal with the danger.

Walsall went close to getting a goal back in the twenty ninth minute, as Dylan Parker picked up a cross from Andy Cook and found a way past De Laet, but De Laet was able to recover enough to block his shot, before he fired another effort in from the rebound, which Jed Steer was on hand to save.

Moments later, back at the other end, Hourihane was denied a hat-trick after collecting the ball from Jack Grealish and firing an effort goal-wards, where it was cleverly blocked by Jon Guthrie. The ball then fell to Jonathon Kodjia who blazed his effort over.

Both sides enjoyed spells on the ball as the game continued, with the action centred around midfield once more, but thirty-eight minutes in, Jack Grealish picked out an unmarked Glenn Whelen at the back-post, allowing the midfielder an easy goal as he coolly slotted the ball past Dunn and into the bottom corner.

Walsall won a throw-in in a good position late in the half, but after a some good passing in and around the box from the hosts, Villa were able to clear the danger.

That would be the last real action of the half, as the referee blew for half-time with Aston Villa leading three-nil at the break.

0 - 3

The teams returned unchanged after the break, and Aston Villa got the game back under-way. The second half got off to a quiet start, with both sides enjoying spells of possession without creating anything going forwards.

Five minutes into the half, Villa won the first corner of the half, which was well dealt with by the Saddlers who broke through Nicky Devlin who worked the ball to Cook who drove at goal before firing a low effort in on goal, forcing Steer to dive to tip the ball away. The resulting corner was eventually cleared by the visiting side.

In the fifty fourth minute, Hourihane was presented with an opportunity to convert his hat-trick strike, which he duly did, getting the last touch on a Henri Lansbury long-range effort to put the ball past Dunn.

The Saddlers responded well, launching a swift attack up-field, but the visiting side were alert and cleared the danger.

The visitors continued to get forward, causing problems for the Saddlers, and were unlucky not to find a fifth goal in the fifty eighth minute when Hourihane fired an effort wide of the post. Moments later, a Villa corner allowed Tommy Elphick an effort on goal, but his headed shot found the crossbar.

As we reached the hour mark, Walsall made a raft of changes, bringing on Amadou Bakayoko, Luke Leahy, Jordon Sangha, Zeli Ismail, Mitchel Candlin, B. Trialist, Adam Chambers, Luke Little and Sam Leivesley to join Dunn and Guthrie on the pitch.

Four minutes later, Aston Villa opted to make changes of their own, introducing Albert Adomah, Andre Green, Keinan Davis and James Bree in the places of Neil Taylor, James Chester, Jon Kodjia and Conor Hourihane.

The Saddlers were soon rewarded for sticking with Guthrie, winning a corner in the sixty-eighth minute which Ismail swung into the box, where Guthrie was on hand to bundle the ball over the line to pull one back for his side.

There was a brief pause to proceedings moments after the Walsall goal, as De Laet went down requiring treatment. He was unable to continue and Gary Gardener was brought on in his place. His side took the opportunity to introduce two further substitutes, bringing on Mitchell Clark and Harvey Knibbs in place of Glenn Whelan and Jack Grealish.

Both sides enjoyed decent spells with the ball as time marched on, without creating too much, but in the visitors were presented with another good opportunity in the seventy-seventh minute as they were awarded a free-kick just outside the box. Gardener was the man to fire the effort in and he wasn’t far away, sending the ball mere inches over the bar.

Bakayoko went close to finding a second for the Saddlers moments later, firing an effort in after some good work getting the ball into shooting range, but the big forward was unable to keep his shot on target.

Walsall continued to press and won a corner in the eighty-fourth minute, but the ball was swung straight into the arms of the waiting ‘keeper. The visitors were quick to get the ball up to the other end, creating a chance of their own but the Saddlers stood firm and defended well to keep it out.

The Villans soon had the ball back in shooting range, and almost found their fifth two minutes from time as Green worked his way into space before firing an effort in from the left, but he was only able to find the post, and the follow up was played straight at Dunn who smothered.

Moments from time, James Bree was forced to depart early nursing a cut above his left eye, but with no additional time to play, that would be the last action of note as Aston Villa ran out comfortable winners, having scored four goals to Walsall’s one.

A decent enough game to watch, at least from the visitor's perspective, but one that highlighted areas of concern which Dean Keates and his back-room team will need to address before the season opener in a few short weeks.

1 - 4
Guthrie (67')

Hourihane (4')
Hourihane (23')
Whelan (39')
Hourihane (54')
Attendance: 3,501 (1,702)
Referee: Stephen Martin
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