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Match Report: Walsall 1 Stevenage 0

Here is our Match Report from Saturday's League Two clash between the Saddlers and Stevenage.
After another summer of change in WS1, the Saddlers have endured a difficult start to their 2021/22 campaign, with Matthew Taylor's side winless in their five all-competition outings.

They arrived at Saturday’s clash on the back of a disappointing defeat to recently-promoted Hartlepool United and in search of three much-needed points.

Both sides enjoyed early spells of possession as the match got underway, but it was Walsall who were able to make their time on the ball pay first, with Conor Wilkinson getting the better of Ben Coker on the edge of the area, just five minutes in, before firing his side into the lead with a lovely strike past Stevenage shot-stopper, Sacha Bastien.

The visiting side looked to respond quickly, winning a free-kick twenty yards out in the seventh minute, but Coker was unable to beat the wall with his set-piece effort.

Walsall soon had the ball back up at the other end, where Jack Earing looked to make it two, but after some good work to get into the box, his effort on goal sailed narrowly over the crossbar.

The Saddlers continued to look the more likely of the two sides to score, as Stevenage struggled to break them down, with a lovely cross into the box from Brendan Kiernan finding Kieran Phillips, in the seventeenth minute, but the strikers shot narrowly missed the target.

There was no let up for the visitors, with Phillips unlucky to be caught offside in the twentieth minute, as Manny Monthé looked to have played him through on goal.

Stevenage did begin to see more of the ball, and exert a little pressure as the game wore on, but neither side was really able to test their opposition as the game settled into something of a midfield battle.

It wasn't until the thirty-fourth minute that either side were able to create another chance; the Saddlers winning a corner as Luke Prosser headed an in-swinging effort from Wilkinson out of play. The flag-kick coming to nothing.

Moments later, up at the other end, Walsall 'keeper, Carl Rushworth was tasked with making his first real save of the game, as Luther James-Wildin broke and crossed the ball into the path of Jack Smith, whose headed looked to be headed in at the back post. Fortunately for the Saddlers, the man between the sticks was able to get down in time to deny the goal.

Stevenage continued to enjoy an improved spell, testing Rushworth again in the forty-second minute, after Monthé gifted them a corner kick, which Jake Reeves swung into the box. The Saddlers shot-stopper caused a few hearts to skip a beat as he fumbled the ball, but was able to gather at the second time of asking to keep his side ahead.

Two additional minutes were added to end the first-half, but there was little further action of note, and the sides headed off for their half-time refreshments with Walsall leading by one-goal-to-nil.

HT
WFC
1-0
SFC
 
Stevenage opted to make a change after the break, with Jack Smith sitting out the second-half, as Chris Lines took his place. The visiting side began the half brightly, creating a chance to level the scores just seconds after the re-start, but Taylor's effort from the edge of the area was deflected wide, before he then fired wide from the resulting corner.

The early dominance was short lived though, and the match quickly settled back into a midfield tussle, with both sides seeing plenty of the ball without troubling their opposition defences.

With fifty-four minutes on the clock, the Saddlers won their first corner of the half, as Coker did well to block a promising cross from Hayden White. Nothing would come of the flag-kick.

In the sixty-third minute, Hayden White became the first player to see his name taken by the referee, as he picked up a yellow card for a late challenge on Luke Norris. The resulting free-kick was played short to Reeves, who was unable to keep his shot below the bar.

Reeves continued to seek a route back onto level terms for his side, firing a long range effort goal-wards in the sixty-fifth minute, but this time his effort sailed inches wide of the far post.

A brief pause in proceedings followed, whilst Walsall captain, Joss Labadie received treatment, but fortunately he was soon back on his feet and able to continue.

The game again settled into something of a midfield battle as time ebbed away, with Stevenage seeing plenty of the ball, whilst the Walsall defences thwarted their attempts to create further chances on goal.

With seventy-seven minutes on the clock, Stevenage opted to make a double change to their line-up, with both Jamie Reid and Arthur Read making way as James Daly and Bruno Andrade took their places.

The Saddlers followed suit moments later, making their first change of the afternoon. Kieran Phillips being replaced by Emmanuel Osadebe for the final ten minutes or so.

The visiting team continued to see much of the ball as the clock edged ever closer to the ninetieth minute, but failed to string together a move to really test the Saddlers defences.

Walsall won a free-kick in a dangerous position in the eighty-fourth minute, as Terence Vancooten found his name being added to the referee's notebook for a poor challenge on Earing, relieving some of the Stevenage pressure for a while. Nothing would come of the opportunity though, as Wilkinson failed to beat the wall.

Moments later, with the ball up at the other end, the visiting side won a corner, as a Norris headed effort was turned behind by Monthe, though nothing would come of the set-piece.

With eighty-seven minutes on the clock, Walsall chose to make a second change to their line-up, with Jack Earing being replaced by Ash Taylor for the final few minutes of the game.

Stevenage continued to seek a late equaliser as the game continued, and almost found one in the eighty-ninth minute, as Andrade curled an effort in on goal, which sailed mere inches wide of the far post.

Four additional minutes were added to end the game, during which time, the trailing side won a corner as James-Wildin saw an effort deflected over the bar, but Rushworth was alert to the danger and gathered the ball following the flag-kick.

That would prove to be the final action of note, as the Saddlers held on to their one-goal lead to see out the game. A bright start to the game, coupled with a lot of good defending, enough to see Walsall claim their first victory of the campaign.

FT
WFC
1-0
SFC
Wilkinson (5')
--
AT / ATT
- Banks's Stadium
REFEREE
Andrew Kitchen

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