Honours even on opening day...
A LATE Jonathan Forte equaliser, eight minutes from time, denied the Saddlers an opening day victory at the Banks’s Stadium.
Romaine Sawyers’ superb strike into the top corner gave Dean Smith’s men an early lead but they were pegged back late on by the Oldham substitute.
Walsall made a spritely start. It took just two minutes for debutant right-back Jason Demetriou to make a purposeful run down the flank, but Jordan Cook couldn’t add a telling connection to his low near post cross.
Oldham could’ve grabbed the opener when a misjudgement from goalkeeper Neil Etheridge presented Jake Cassidy with a chance, but the former Wolves striker blazed his volley over.
The Saddlers had another great opportunity moments later when Rico Henry found some space on the left wing. The talented youngster’s square ball found its way to Demetriou lurking in the middle, but his vicious left foot shot just dipped over the crossbar.
This early pressure eventually told when Sawyers scored with a fantastic strike on eight minutes. Tom Bradshaw teed up the forward, who powered past his man before driving past Athletic’s helpless Joel Coleman from the edge of the area.
The game then settled down with spells of possession for both teams. Etheridge watched midfielder Liam Kelly’s 25-yard volley wide, as the visitors were still yet to trouble the new Walsall stopper.
There were appeals for an Oldham penalty when Joseph Mills went down under pressure from Demetriou, but referee Mark Brown waved away the protests.
With half-time approaching, Henry again proved a nuisance on the left, skipping past his man before drilling in a cross from the by-line. Cook darted to the near stick but his effort was blocked away by some last ditch Oldham defending.
The goalkeeper fumbled Sam Mantom’s low strike, and Bradshaw was alert to the opportunity as he tried to poach a goal. Unfortunately the striker had just strayed offside.
Then some confusion between Oldham ‘keeper Coleman and defender Jonathan Burn, almost let in the ever-present Bradshaw. Last season’s top scorer seized on the misunderstanding but could only poke the ball across goal.
However, Darren Kelly’s Oldham had a good opportunity with the last kick of the half. Striker Rhys Turner sprung the offside trap but lifted over, with Etheridge out quickly to narrow the angle.
HALF TIME: WALSALL 1-0 OLDHAM ATHLETIC
Andy Taylor’s clever pass from a dead ball then caused mayhem in the middle early in the second period. Bradshaw stabbed a shot towards goal which drew a good save and the ball was eventually scrambled clear.
Latics midfielder Carl Winchester fired across the six-yard box but no Oldham player could get the all important touch, while at the other end Mantom’s drive drew a smart save from Coleman after more positive work from Demetriou.
Taylor then shaped up for a trademark free kick, but the Walsall left-back’s shot bounced wide of the far post.
Mills hit an excellent rasping shot from distance for Oldham, but it was beaten away by Etheridge with his first shot-stopping action of the afternoon.
A looping back-header from Paul Downing then put the Saddlers defence in a bit of trouble but fellow centre-back James O’Connor was on hand to put his body on the line and clear for a corner.
Kelly headed wide from a floated Latics free kick and the visitors were right on top at this stage.
Dean Smith’s side were weathering the storm well and Taylor made a brilliant challenge to stop Brian Wilson when the ball was threaded through to him in the penalty area.
Second half sub Milan Lalkovic, making his second Saddlers debut, then showed his blistering pace on the counter to go round Coleman but he couldn’t find the target from a tricky angle.
Oldham grabbed the equaliser with just eight minutes to go, when substitute Forte volleyed past Etheridge following a pinpoint cross from Cassidy to send the travelling fans into raptures.
Bradshaw smashed one narrowly over in the closing minutes as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Starting XI: Etheridge, O'Connor, Downing, Taylor, Demetriou, Henry, Mantom, Chambers (c), Sawyers, Cook, Bradshaw