WALSALL v PRESTON NORTH END
THE SADDLERS stepped out for the visit of Preston North End, determined to secure our first League win of the season.
After Paul Downing had blocked well from Jack King, Walsall took an early lead when a corner was only half-cleared and as the ball was returned low across the area, Romaine Sawyers, back from International Duty, was on hand to slot home to make it 1-0 with just seven minutes on the clock.
The next chance saw a foul on Sawyers give Walsall a free-kick in a promising position but the wall did its job to block not once but twice.
The Saddlers were playing some neat football at times, with Sawyers in particular looking lively. That said, real chances were few and far between at either end as we reached the half-hour mark.
An inviting corner from the visitors saw the ball headed just over by Joe Garner before moments later, the same man levelled matters in 36th minutes with a strike from distance that beat Richard O'Donnell.
There was an ambitious effort from distance by Garner as he spotted O'Donnell off his line, but he was just off target as the goal brought life into PNE.
An effort from Paul Gallagher was dragged just wide as the half ended with the scores locked at 1-1.
The Saddlers started the second period with Billy Clifford on in place of skipper, Adam Chambers.
We managed to regain the lead on 49 minutes when some neat play on the right ended with Anthony Forde providing an inviting cross that was met with a sweet header from Tom Bradshaw to make it 2-1.
At the other end, O'Donnell was alert to clear outside his area from Chris Humphrey.
There was another change for The Saddlers on the half-hour mark as Mathieu Manset came on for Bradshaw.
Clifford had the confidence to try his luck from distance and win a corner which was headed back across goal by Manset as the visiting 'keeper gathered.
The game burst to life with just over 20 minutes to go when a strong but fair challenge by Andy Butler on Jordan Hugill prompted an angry reaction by the PNE man who head-butted Butler. There was a skirmish as O'Donnell was booked for his part.
Then Benning saw yellow for a foul inside the visitors' half before Chris Humphrey went close from close range as he went in hard on O'Donnell who was okay to continue following treatment.
It certainly added a spark to proceedings.
The Saddlers made it 3-1 on 75 minutes when a corner from Forde found the head of Paul Downing who made no mistake.
With ten minutes to go, Sawyers came off to a standing ovation as James Baxendale took his place.
A corner for Walsall saw Butler made his presence felt but the visitors survived.
Some neat link-up play between Flanagan and Clifford sees the latter stride into the area before firing a low effort inches wide of the target.
There was another good attempt at goal, this time from Mal Benning, that just flew over.
In the closing stages, O'Donnell did well to deny the visitors a late consolation as The Saddlers chalked up a deserved first League win of the season. Well done, lads!