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Central League: Mansfield Town 1 Walsall 0

Walsall's development team were back in action on Tuesday afternoon as they took on Mansfield Town Reserves in their latest Central League fixture of the season.
Following last season's hiatus, Walsall have been placed in the North East Midlands league of the competition and, along with this afternoon's opponents, will come up against Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby Town, Rotherham United, and Scunthorpe United over the course of the campaign.

The Saddlers, who are managed by development coach Brian Dutton, were win-less heading into this afternoon's match and sat just two points behind their opponents, having picked up two draws from their four outings.

Walsall were sat the foot of the table having amassed just two points. One of their duo of draws came against Mansfield in October and saw James Hardy put the Reds into lead before Jordan Graham netted late on to secure a point for the Stags.

Mansfield were third in the table ahead of kick-off, having achieved a win and a draw from their opening two matches, and could've rise to as high as first position if they were able to topple the Saddlers.

Mansfield Town XI: Stone; Clarke, Walker, Sketchley, King, Tomlin, Hill, Sterling-James, Knowles, Graham, Davies

Substitutes: Campbell; Saunders, Lawson, Molyneaux, Ingram
Walsall XI: Rose; K.Roberts, Lynch, Leak, Jules; S.Perry, Willis, Bates; Hardy, Adebayo, Nolan

Substitutes: Coogan, Moss, McSkeane, Candlin, Pearce

Walsall named a strong line-up with several first-team and fringe players getting the opportunity to build some much-needed fitness whilst also staking a claim for a place in Darrell Clarke's matchday squad.

Sadly for the Saddlers their run of poor form appeared to be continuing as the home side took the lead within just six minutes of the match getting underway as Jimmy Knowles slammed the ball past Jack Rose in the Walsall goal.

The Saddlers were not without chances of their own and, shortly after Zak Jules had prevented Knowles getting another shot in on goal, defender Tom Leak saw an effort deflect just past the post after being found in space by Jack Nolan.

The home side almost doubled their lead with twenty-eight minutes on the clock as youngster Ethan Hill was able to break through the Saddlers' backline before seeing an effort creep past the post with Rose scrambling.

Defender Zak Jules did well to keep the score at one-nil as he was on hand to dispossess Knowles on the edge of the area, although the Stags bench were calling for a free-kick as the referee waved play on.

The two sides continued to prod and probe in search of the game's second goal as the teams exchanges possession on a fairly windy afternoon in the East Midlands.

Both James Hardy and Jack Nolan tried their luck for the Saddlers, Hardy scuffing an effort and Nolan clearing the crossbar, whilst goal-scorer Knowles showed some neat control before forcing Rose into a save late in the half but the score ultimately remained as it had since the sixth-minute.

STAGS
1 - 0
WALSALL

The Saddlers opted to make a few changes at the break as Mitchel Candlin, Perry Moss, Danny Coogan and Alex McSkeane replaced James Hardy, Sam Perry, Zak Jules and Joe Willis.

The home side joined the Saddlers in making a half-time change as Shamar Lawson replaced Jordan Graham.

The second-half took a short while to kick into action as the first effort arrived with five minutes gone as Knowles was able to cut inside Kory Roberts before forcing Rose into a save, the on-loan Southampton stopper using his legs to keep the score at one-nil.

Knowles continued to be a threat and, after breaking inside, saw another effort go over the bar shortly after Rose's save as the Saddlers struggled to keep him quiet as he looked to add to his goal.

The Saddlers went close to levelling the scores shortly after the hour mark as Alfie Bates' free-kick found the head of Elijah Adebayo who powered a header towards goal only to see young 'keeper Aidan Stone pull off a superb save to keep his sheet clean.

Adebayo's reward for his near goal was a place on the bench as he was soon replaced by striker Luke Pearce, the young prospect getting another opportunity to shine.

Goal-scorer Knowles was almost played in on goal by a sweetly-struck Kyle Tomlin chipped-pass but, thankfully for the Saddlers, Jimmy was unable to stay onside as the assistant flagged to bring play back for a free-kick.

Mansfield continued to push for another goal and saw an effort clear the bar as former Walsall trialist Omari Sterling-James was unable to keep his effort down following Craig Davies' neat pass.

The Saddlers weren't content to settle for a narrow defeat and went in search of a goal of their own with around five minutes remaining as Hardy sent a dangerous cross into the box. Sadly there were no Saddlers players able to get on the end of the ball as Mansfield defender James Clarke cleared the danger.

Back at the other end Sterling-James did well to find substitute Shamar Lawson in an attacking position, but the Saddlers defence were able to thwart his effort as he was unable to get a shot on target.

Jimmy Knowles was still searching for his and Mansfield's second goal and went fairly close with a mis-timed volley as the match reached injury time.

The home side continued to push for another goal and forced Rose into a late save as Sterling-James was found in space by Tomlin, OSJ's chipped effort was ultimately saved as Walsall's on-loan stopper remained alert.

The Saddlers went agonisingly close to levelling the scores late in injury time as Bates forced the goalkeeper into a save with a well-struck free-kick.

There were no further goals or opportunities as the referee called for full-time, with Mansfield securing all three points.

STAGS
1 - 0
WALSALL
Knowles (6')


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