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DOWNING PRAISES SADDLERS' DEFENDING

6 October 2015

Walsall kept a fifth clean sheet of the season at Wigan...

Centre-back Paul Downing praised the Saddlers’ defensive resilience in the goalless draw at ten-man Wigan.

The Latics dominated the first-half and created good chances in the second, with Yanic Wildschut and Will Grigg each going close, but the visitors’ rearguard held firm.

Walsall then pushed for a winner following Craig Morgan’s 69th-minute red card for bringing down Kieron Morris.

And although the Saddlers were unable to find a late goal, Downing was pleased with a point and a clean sheet – our fifth of the season – against a tricky opponent.

"It was a good game between two strong teams who want to be up there at the end of the season,” said Downing.

“We were pretty happy with the result. We wanted to win the game and we created some chances when they went down to ten men. On another day we could have taken three points.

"But they’ve got good players and have spent a lot of money so we can take great credit for keeping a clean sheet against them.

"I know both (Wigan strikers) Jordy Hiwula and Grigg really well and we had a good battle against them.

"We’ve kept a lot of clean sheets and our defensive record is the best in the league.

"We want to keep being solid because it gives us the best chance of winning games.”

Downing also paid tribute to his main central defensive partner, James O’Connor, who has been in fine form this season.

“We’ve built up a good relationship this season – both on and off the pitch,” said Downing.

“I enjoy playing alongside Jim and I think we complement each other well. He’s an experienced player who has played at a higher level and he has started the season really well. It’s important that he plays well because we’re a better team when he does.”

Downing and O’Connor have been ever-presents in League One this season, being deployed in either a back three or a back four.

Manager Dean Smith has alternated between the two systems, and Downing has been impressed with the way the players have responded to frequent changes in formations and personnel.

“Every team poses a different challenge so it’s good that we can swap and change formations to give us the best chance of winning,” said Downing.

“Credit to everyone involved because it’s not easy at times (to change systems). But we’ve made it look easy because of the quality of our play and the understanding of the different formations.

“We’re going to have to keep that up because I’m sure the gaffer will keep changing it!”

The Saddlers are back in action against leaders Burton this weekend, in what promises to be an intriguing top-of-the-table tussle.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said the defender.

“Burton are winning most of the games so they’re obviously doing something right.

“They won promotion last season and they’ve been able to carry on that momentum.

“It will be a difficult challenge for us but these are the games you want to play in – you want to be near the top of the league.

“I’m sure there’ll be a good atmosphere and we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”

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