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MATCH REPORT

PUBLISHED
16:45 13th February 2016
By  Daniel Briggs

CREWE 1-1 WALSALL

Walsall slipped out of the League One automatic promotion places after being held at relegation-strugglers Crewe.

The Saddlers dominated the first-half and went ahead through Tom Bradshaw’s 32nd-minute penalty – his 15th goal of the season.

But Sean O’Driscoll’s men were forced to settle for a point after Brad Inman headed Crewe level four minutes into the second period.

The result saw Walsall drop to third in League One, with Gillingham – 2-1 winners against Barnsley – rising to second.

O’Driscoll, who was taking charge of his tenth league match since being appointed head coach, made three changes to his side’s starting XI.

Fit-again goalkeeper Neil Etheridge replaced Liam Roberts, while centre-back Matt Preston came in for the injured James O’Connor.

Winger Milan Lalkovic – the Saddlers’ second top-scorer – was also handed a start in place of left-back Rico Henry.

And Walsall - playing at the home of the Railwaymen - started like a train, creating two golden chances inside the opening four minutes.

First, Romaine Sawyers played a slick one-two with Jason Demetriou to reach the byline before pulling the ball back to Bradshaw.

Romaine Sawyers Crewe A 460x345

Walsall’s leading marksman fired towards goal but Crewe keeper Ben Garratt got down quickly to make a smart stop low to his right.

And then, Demetriou’s pass was dummied by Sawyers for Bradshaw, who slipped in the playmaker but his placed effort was kept out by Garratt.

The Saddlers were building up a head of steam, with Preston then turning Andy Taylor’s cross goalwards but Garratt made another fine diving stop.

And even when the keeper was beaten on 15 minutes, the woodwork came to the home side’s rescue.

Lalkovic’s inviting cross was met by Bradshaw on the half-volley but the ball cannoned against the underside of the bar and bounced to safety.

On 26 minutes, Steve Davis’ resurgent Crewe – unbeaten in four heading into the match – almost snatched the lead.

Ryan Seager chased a long ball and rounded visiting stopper Etheridge, who had advanced well out of his area.

The Alex man, still 30 yards out, had an empty net to aim at but Preston made an expert recovery tackle to deny what appeared a certain goal.

But just after the half-hour mark, Walsall made the breakthrough their dominance deserved.

George Cooper handled inside the box, with Bradshaw slamming home the resulting penalty despite Garratt getting a hand to the ball.

Tom Bradshaw pen Crewe A 460x345

Crewe looked for a response, with Seager seeing a near-post header from Inman’s accurate cross kept out by Etheridge.

Although the Alex were offering an occasional counter-attacking threat, Walsall were dominating possession and creating the clearer chances.

And the Saddlers – boasting the best away record in English football’s top-four divisions – went close to making it 2-0 before half-time.

Lalkovic latched on to Anthony Forde’s scooped pass and, from an acute angle, steered a left-footed drive inches wide of the far post.

HALF-TIME: CREWE 0-1 WALSALL

But after such an impressive first half, Walsall’s good work was completely undone just four minutes after the restart as Crewe drew level.

David Fox’s free-kick was headed on by Semi Ajayi for Inman to nod past Etheridge for his sixth goal in as many matches.

The Saddlers looked to regain the lead immediately, with Sawyers releasing Lalkovic, who cut infield before shooting straight at Garratt.

Forde then saw an effort blocked by James Jones but chances were proving few and far between in a much more even second period.

It wasn’t until the final 15 minutes that Walsall piled on the pressure.

Lalkovic’s fizzing 25-yard strike was pushed away by Garratt, with Taylor then blazing over the bar from Sawyers’ cut back.

Milan Lalkovic 460x345

Garratt then held Lalkovic’s deflected strike, before Forde's corner was hooked over by Downing from inside the six-yard box.

The Saddlers were well on top but just couldn’t find a way past the inspired Garratt, who made another impressive stop on 78 minutes.

Bradshaw’s sweetly-struck 20-yard drive looked destined for the far corner but Garratt produced an excellent one-handed save to palm the ball away.

Crewe’s custodian denied the visitors again moments later, as he parried Lalkovic’s low shot at his near post.

Yet the Alex almost nicked victory at the death when Marcus Haber rose above Downing but could only head over from six yards.

FULL-TIME: CREWE 1-1 WALSALL

Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, Preston, Downing, Taylor, Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic (Henry 88), Sawyers, Forde (K Morris 88), Bradshaw.

Subs not used: Roberts, Kinsella, Flanagan, B Morris, Cook.

Attendance: 5,123 (1,195 Walsall supporters).

    QUICK FACTS

    For the first 50 years of their existence, England played their home matches all around the country.