WALSALL 3-1 AFC WIMBLEDON
Debut goals from Erhun Oztumer and Simeon Jackson earned Walsall a comfortable opening-day win over newly-promoted AFC Wimbledon.
Oztumer’s stunning seventh-minute free-kick put the Saddlers ahead and Jackson bundled home a second before half-time.
The experienced forward made it 3-0 after the break with a close-range volley from substitute Amadou Bakayoko’s superb cross.
Lyle Taylor pulled one back for Wimbledon late on when he won and converted a penalty, but the points belonged to Jon Whitney’s new-look side.
The 45-year-old, who was taking charge of his first match as permanent manager, gave full debuts to six players.
Summer signings Joe Edwards, Jason McCarthy, Florent Cuvelier, Oztumer and Jackson were all named in the starting XI.
Isaiah Osbourne, who missed all of last season through injury, was also making his first start after earning a new contract in pre-season.
And it was one of the Saddlers’ debutants who got the season off to the perfect start with the game’s opening goal inside seven minutes.
Jackson was fouled by Chris Whelpdale 22 yards out and Oztumer curled the resulting free-kick over the wall and in off the post.
It was a wonderful goal from the diminutive attacking midfielder, who was in the thick of the action again eight minutes later.
Edwards combined well with Osbourne down the right, cut infield and teed up Oztumer to fire wide of Ryan Clarke’s left-hand upright.
Although Walsall had been completely dominant in the opening quarter of the match, Wimbledon soon grew into the contest.
And on 27 minutes, the Dons – competing in the third tier for the first time - should have drawn level.
Whelpdale latched onto Jake Reeves’ lofted pass, skipped inside James O’Connor but dragged his right-footed shot badly wide of the near post.
It was a real let off for the Saddlers, who were then indebted to goalkeeper Neil Etheridge for a fine double save.
He first denied Taylor from point-blank range, before blocking Andy Barcham’s follow-up with his legs.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt Neal Ardley’s men as Walsall doubled their advantage seven minutes before the interval.
Oztumer’s floated free-kick caused chaos in the Dons' ranks, with Jackson bundling home after a goalmouth scramble.
Half-time: Walsall 2-0 AFC Wimbledon
The Wombles had a good chance to cut the deficit on 50 minutes, when Elliott glanced a free header wide from Jake Reeves’ set piece.
The London club were struggling to find a route back into the match, though.
Sean Kelly curled a 20-yard free-kick over, Elliott steered a right-footed shot wide and Dannie Bulman’s low drive was blocked.
Any hopes of a Wimbledon comeback were killed off on 72 minutes as Walsall made it 3-0.
Osbourne fed Bakayoko down the left and the substitute delivered an inviting cross which Jackson converted on the volley from close range.
The Saddlers almost added a fourth goal shortly after, Kieron Morris with a rasping right-footed strike which Clarke tipped over one-handed.
Wimbledon nearly pulled one back when Taylor met Dominic Poleon’s cross ahead of Etheridge but could only direct his header wide.
But the League One new-boys did find the net in the final minute of normal time, Taylor converting a penalty after being hauled down by Rico Henry.
Full-time: Walsall 3-1 AFC Wimbledon
Team: Etheridge, Edwards, O’Connor (Preston 61’), McCarthy, Henry, Chambers, Osbourne, Oztumer (Bakayoko 69’), Cuvelier (Moussa 75’), Morris, Jackson.
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Dobson, Ginnelly, Makris.
Attendance: 5,845 (1,049 Wimbledon supporters).