On the whistle report from Kenilworth Road...
THE Saddlers brought their pre-season campaign to a close with a 1-0 win over Luton Town on Saturday afternoon.
Simeon Jackson grabbed the decisive goal just 60 seconds into the second period, capitalising on a defensive lapse by Stephen O'Donnell to slide the ball home.
The League Two hosts provided the prefect test for Whitney’s men as all attention now turns to our season opener with AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.
The match was treated as a full dress rehearsal for the Saddlers ahead of next weeks League opener, Jon Whitney named Flo Cuvelier alongside Adam Chambers at the heart of midfield with the latest addition to the squad, Josh Ginnelly and Kieron Morris given the nod to start either side of Erhun Oztumer.
After a slow start to the game, former Saddler Jordan Cook tried to sparked the crowd into life with a late challenge on Joe Edwards. It didn’t have the desired effort but he was again in on the action moments later.
Hylton showed some perseverance on the left keeping the move alive for the hosts before feeding Cook in a more central position, his effort cannoning into the midriff of James O'Connor.
It took 12 minutes for the Saddlers to muster up a moment of danger. Erhun Oztmumer, having been rested for Tuesday's defeat to Notts County showed why he is so highly thought of, turning his defender with a lovely touch round the corner. With the Luton defence retreating, the Walsall number 10 opted for a powerful drive at goal only to see his effort blocked by Mullins.
Both sides were struggling to find some rhythm after 15 minutes of a fairly one-paced encounter. Jack Marriott was the first Luton player to test Neil Etheridge's reflexes with a low drive from the edge of the box. The midfielder found a yard of space and tried to find the bottom corner with a fizzing drive, Etheridge managing to get down to his right and palm it away.
The combative Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu found his way into the Walsall box undetected in the 25th minute. After hitting the byline, the imposing midfield man pulled the ball back for Danny Hylton to mishit and inadvertently direct the ball into the path of Jordan Cook who could only blaze over from 12 yards out. A warning shot from the hosts.
Rico Henry was given too much space on 40 minutes and needed no second invitation to drive deep into Luton territory. The Saddlers youngster went through the gears in front of the two dug-outs and was aware enough to find Cuvelier infield whose left footed effort was blocked by Dan Potts.
Not to be outdone by his opposite number, Adam Chambers made a crunching challenge on the half way line and set Flo Cuvelier on his way. The Belgian powerfully galloped into the Luton half before teeing up Kieron Morris who snatched at his right-footed shot that bobbled harmlessly wide.
The move epitomised a first half in which both sides struggled to get going with clear cut opportunities at a premium.
HALF TIME: Luton Town 0-0 Walsall
From the kick-off there was an added intensity to the Saddlers play.
Jon Whitney clearly had a few words with his players at the interval, and it paid dividends after just a minute of the second half. After a fight for possession in the midfield area, the ball fell to Luton defender Stephen O’Donnell who elected to head back to his goalkeeper. The header failed to have necessary pace on the ball and Simeon Jackson was on hand to open his account in Walsall colours with a cool finish past Christian Walton in the Hatters goal.
Oztumer’s trickery and Rico Henry’s pace provided glimpses of excitement as the Saddlers looked to take a stranglehold on the game.
There was, however, a hearts in mouths moment on the hour mark when an inch perfect through ball found Luton forward Danny Hylton. After rounding Neil Etheridge and rolling the ball into the empty net, it was left to the linesman to rescue the Saddlers with a late flag.
The familiar raft of changes synonymous with pre-season was never on either manager’s agenda with the League campaign just seven days away and it allowed the game to ebb and flow without ever having the feel of a thoroughly competitive fixture.
Adam Chambers was on hand to make a crucial block midway through the second half to preserve the Saddlers one-goal lead. Midfielder Cameron McGeehan was lining up an effort inside the box but was unaware of the retreating Walsall captain who arrived right on time to force a corner.
Oztumer conjured up a late effort from distance with the movement on the ball making it awkward for Walton who gathered at the second time of asking.
Other than the odd glimpse of quality, the match was largely played at comfortable pace for the Saddlers who ran out 1-0 winners on the day.
Now for the real thing, AFC Wimbledon.
STARTING LINE-UP: Etheridge, Edwards, McCarthy, O'Connor, Henry, Cuvelier, Chambers, Morris, Oztumer, Ginnelly, Jackson