Match Report: Walsall 2 Gillingham 1

Here is our Match Report from Saturday afternoon's Sky Bet League One clash between the Saddlers and visitors, Gillingham.
Both Walsall and Gillingham arrived at this weekend's clash undefeared in the league so far this season, and were keen to keep their run going as they faced-off at the Saddlers' Banks's Stadium.

Gillingham got the game under-way, but it was Walsall who looked the likelier to score in the opening few minutes, with Morgan Ferrier looking to create an opening in just the third minute with a heavy cross into the box, but the pass had too much on it for his team-mates and sailed out of play.

The Saddlers continued to press, winning a corner in the fourth minute thanks to a troublesome cross from the left which Bradley Garmston had to head behind, but the ball in from the flag-kick was easily dealt with by the visitors.

The match continued apace and just six minutes in, Gillingham created the first real chance of the afternoon, winning a free-kick in a dangerous position. Luke O’Neill played a deep cross into the box, picking out the head of Tom Eaves, but the forwards effort on goal was inches off target, sailing past the post.

The hosts were quick to get the ball back to the other end again, with Ferrier again looking lively down the left, before playing the ball in to Josh Ginnelly on the edge of the area, but the midfielder was unable to keep his strike below the bar. Moments later, the hosts called Tomas Holy into action in the Gillingham goal, with the visiting ‘keeper doing well to beat away a twenty-five yard Luke Leahy effort, before Kieron Morris saw a follow-up shot blocked.

Just twelve minutes in, the lively Ferrier found the breakthrough with a sublime strike which found the top corner from the edge of the area after cutting inside his man. The ‘keeper with absolutely no chance of saving.

The visiting side went looking for an immediate response, but Liam Roberts was alert to the danger and gathered well to deny them the chance. The Saddlers were soon back at the other end though, with Nicky Devlin working the ball into the box but Gills captain, Gabriel Zakuani ensured his side were able to clear.

With nineteen minutes on the clock, Gillingham won a corner, which was played short to Regan Charles-Cook, who passed the ball to O’Neill who in turn won his side a second corner, which Walsall dealt with well. The visitors soon had the ball back in their possession though, and almost levelled the scores with a clever dummy from Josh Parker allowing him space to shoot from twenty yards, but the effort sailed wide of the upright without troubling Roberts.

Ginnelly and Ferrier combined well in the twenty-second minute to create another effort on goal for the latter. A clever move from the scorer of the opening goal saw him cut inside his man before firing an angled effort goal-wards but Holy was well placed to prevent the hosts doubling their advantage, and the resulting corner came to nothing.

Gillingham were awarded a free-kick in the twenty-sixth minute in a dangerous position, which O’Neill crossed in towards the box only to see the ball cut out by the first man, not to be dissuaded, the defender picked up the loose ball and turned another cross into the box where Max Ehmer was waiting at the back post to head the ball on to Brandon Hanlan who hooked his effort wide of Roberts’ upright.

As we reached the half hour mark, the Saddlers again worked themselves in shooting distance, with Devlin setting up Jack Fitzwater who found himself unmarked in the box and turned an effort goal-wards, but a late tackle saw the shot blocked and the danger averted.

Three minutes later, it was the turn of the hosts to test their opposition defences, with Charles-Cook racing forwards before playing in Hanlan who fired a powerful effort goal-wards, eliciting a one-handed save from Roberts to deny the equaliser.

Ten minutes from time, Leahy played in Andy Cook who looked certain to score with a glancing  header which ultimately sailed fractionally wide. Two minutes later, his team-mate, Isaiah Osbourne had more luck keeping his effort on target with a shot which sneaked it’s way through the crowded area and came to rest in the back of the net.

The hosts almost extended their lead further in the forty-fourth minute, but the Gills defences did just enough to keep the ball out, denying Jon Guthrie a goal and Leahy an assist.

One additional minute was played to end the half, during which Ferrier looked for his second goal of the afternoon with a twenty yard effort on goal, but he misjudged and the ball sailed well over the bar without troubling Holy in the Gillingham goal and the sides headed into the break with Gillingham still trailing by two goals.

2 - 0

The sides returned unchanged after the break and Walsall got the action back under-way. The visitors started the half brightly, with Garmston doing well down the left four minutes in, before his attempted cross was blocked and rebounded off his own leg to give the Saddlers a goal-kick which alleviated the pressure.

Walsall were soon on the attack themselves, with Ginnelly and Ferrier combining well in the fifty-first minute to set up Cook who fired an effort towards the corner drawing a superb fingertip save from Holy to deny the Saddlers a third. Moments later, Ginnelly again attempted to get the ball into the area, but Bingham was alert and blocked the cross.

The hosts continued to search for a third, with Morris dragging a shot narrowly wide in the fifty-third minute with none of his team-mates able to get to the ball to turn it home as it flashed across goal.

The visitors continued to search for a route back into the game whenever allowed, with Parker doing well to create space out on the right in the fifty-fifth minute and crossing the ball in towards goal, but with just too much on it sailed harmlessly out for a goal-kick. Roberts faced a tougher test three minutes later, as Garmston floated the ball in for Eaves who was waiting inside the box, but anticipating the move, the Walsall shot-stopper cut out the danger with a comfortable save.

As we raced past the hour mark, Garmston again advanced as he and his side continued to search for a goal back, but the Saddlers defences stood firm, preventing him crossing the ball into the box. The visitors continued to enjoy plenty of possession with Guthrie being called into action in the sixty-second minute, blocking a shot from Charles-Cook.

With their side showing signs of life, Gillingham opted to make a double substitution in the sixty-sixth minute, with Billy Bingham and Brandon Hanlan departing early, allowing Conor Wilkinson and Callum Reilly to enter the fray.

The visiting side continued to dominate, with Parker finding space to shoot in the seventieth minute, winning his side a corner as the Walsall defences turned the ball behind. The recently introduced Wilkinson took the flag-kick, but he couldn’t beat the first man as the ball was headed clear.

The Saddlers could do little but defend by this point, with the visitors throwing all they could towards the Walsall goal, which almost resulted in the Gills shortening the deficit in the seventy-second minute as a corner kick from O’Neill found Wilkinson in the box, but Roberts remained alert and gathered the headed effort with ease.

There was a brief halt to proceedings in the seventy-fourth minute as Leahy went down following a Wilkinson challenge which saw cries for a red card from many inside the stadium but nothing was given and the Walsall man was soon back on his feet and play resumed.

The visitors resumed their assault on the Walsall goal, with a low cross from Garmston causing problems, but the Saddlers were ultimately able to prevent Eaves getting a shot away, gifting Gillingham another corner, which O’Neill was unable to get past Roberts who gathered well.

Twelve minutes from time, Luke O’Neill became the first player to enter the referee’s notebook, picking up a yellow card for a mistimed tackle. That would prove to be O’Neill’s final involvement in the game, as he was then substituted in favour of Barry Fuller.

With eighty-three minutes on the clock, Charles-Cook won yet another corner for his side, which Garmston played onto the head of Wilkinson, but Roberts was again on hand to keep his sides lead intact, tipping the ball over the bar and giving away a further corner. Reilly swung the ball in to Eaves who was unable to keep his headed effort on target, turning the ball wide of the post.

In the eighty-sixth minute, Max Ehmer joined O’Neill in the referee’s notebook, picking up a yellow card for a foul on Ginnelly.

There was no let up from the visitors, who continued to seek out a route back into the game as time ebbed away. Charles-Cook seeing another effort blocked inside the box in the eighty-seventh minute, before Mark Byrne picked up the loose ball and fired a twenty yard strike in, which was also blocked.

George Dobson picked up a yellow card in the final of the ninety minutes for a handball offence, which also gifted the visitors a free-kick in a dangerous position, and Parker’s shot deflected out of play for a corner. The ball in from Charles-Cook was a good one, finding the head of Reilly, who would have pulled his side to within a goal of their hosts had it not been for an alert George Dobson; the Saddlers skipper heading the ball off the line to keep his side ahead by two.

Walsall opted to make their first change of the afternoon as the board went up indicating a minimum of three additional minutes would be played, with Morgan Ferrier departing to rapturous applause as Josh Gordon took his place.

Gordon looked to make an immediate impact as he fired an effort goal-wards, but Holy was able to gather with ease. Moments later, with the ball back at the other end, Gillingham found the breakthrough they had been seeking, when Eaves was picked out by Wilkinson at the back post and headed the ball into the bottom right corner.

There was little time for the visitors to hunt for the goal that would bring the sides level, with one final shot from Charles-Cook sailing wide of the post in the fifth minute of added time before an end was brought to the encounter. Too little, too late for Gillingham, who had enjoyed plenty of opportunity in the second half, but rarely actually looked capable of making the Saddlers pay. A great result for Walsall who thoroughly deserved to take the three points with a dominant first half display during which they took their chances well, before defending their lead stoically.

2 - 1
Ferrier (12')
Osbourne (42')
Eaves (90+3')

Attendance: 4,361
Referee: Trevor Kettle
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