On the whistle report from the Banks's Stadium…
The Saddlers continued their pre-season preparations with a 0-2 defeat against well-fancied Championship side Derby County.
Goals from Darren Bent and Tom Ince proved decisive in what was a worthwhile workout for both sides.
In the final home friendly of the campaign, Jon Whitney fielded new recruits Franck Moussa and Simeon Jackson along with Saddlers youngster Callum Cockerill-Mollett in his starting line-up.
It took less than a minute for Nigel Pearson’s side to register the first chance of the game and what a chance it was too. Some neat play down the Rams right resulted in Tom Ince taking a deft touch past the Saddlers backline before lifting the ball over the onrushing Neil Etheridge. It was left to Joe Edwards to clear from virtually the goal line to keep the scores level.
Both teams began to find their feet following the early chance, moving the ball around neatly in the humid conditions. Blackman tested Neil Etheridge’s handling skills on the 8 minute mark, firing a low drive down to the keepers left, the Walsall stopper was up to the task.
Livewire Erhun Oztumer looked for an instant response, feeding Simeon Jackson inside the box. The Canadian international looked to return the favour with an inventive back heel only to see the ball ricochet off defender Alex Pearce and away for a corner.
It was a similar story moments later, when Oztumer combined nearly with Jackson on the edge of the box. An intricate reverse pass nearly put the diminutive midfielder through but once again the Rams backline were alert to the danger.
After a brief lull in the game, the Saddlers conjured their first effort on target when Morris played a give and go with Oztumer who turned and riffled a shot goal wards. The tricky number 10 caught the left-footed effort well but will be disappointed it was straight at Lee Grant in goal.
The Saddlers barely got themselves back on the field of play when Darren Bent tapped home the games opening goal. Referee Oliver Langford signalled for an imposed water-break and it took less than 30 seconds after play resumed for Darren Bent to tap home from 4 yard out. All the yard work was done by Tom Ince who fashioned a yard of space inside the area before dragging his effort across goal. Bent grateful for the miscued shot as he poached the first goal of the afternoon.
Derby’s £3m winger Nick Blackman was the visitors constant threat in the opening half and came close to doubling the score line on the stroke of half time. The powerful 26-year old cut in from the right and unleashed a powerful effort straight at Callum Cockerill-Mollett. The ball kindly fell back to the Derby winger who this time elected to side foot the ball goal wards, only for Neil Etheridge to scupper his advances.
HALF TIME: Walsall 0-1 Derby County (’35 Bent)
Both Managers shuffled their pack at the break as both sets of players look to benefit from another competitive friendly. Bakayoko was one of Jon Whitney’s changes and the imposing forward looked intent on making an instant impact. First chasing down Lee Grant in the Derby goal before soon after displaying some neat footwork in a tight area, his efforts appreciated by the Saddlers faithful.
Derby we’re far from intent with their one-goal lead though, Ince sending a rasping effort wide of the upright before substitute Will Hughes found Darren Bent with an inviting cross but the experienced striker could only glance his header over.
The game began to produce a flurry of chances, the next falling to Whitney’s men. Oztumer danced his way past Hughes and Christie down the Walsall left before feeding substitute Maziar Kouhyar. The stocky midfield man composed himself 25-yards out and struck a well hit effort goalwards, Grant equal to it.
With the Saddlers growing in confidence, Whitney’s men matched the visitors for much of the game but the added quality came in the 68th minute when Tom Ince doubled Derby’s lead.
Substitute Jeff Hendrick showcased why he was a highlight of the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 efforts, skipping around Isaiah Osbourne and threating an inch perfect ball through to Ince. The talented winger killed the pace on the ball with one touch and curled it around the despairing Etheridge with his second. A deadly move from the Championship side.
Nigel Pearson’s men began to turn the screw and force the Saddlers deeper inside their own half. It wouldn’t deter Whitney’s men though with plenty of endeavour on show from what was becoming a more youthful outfit as the game progressed with substitutions aplenty.
Isaiah Osbourne fashioned a late chance with a neat turn and shot but it wasn’t to be as the ball flew past Lee Grant’s upright, cannoning off the advertisements.
FULL TIME: Walsall 0-2 Derby (35’ Bent, 68’ Ince)
Walsall Starting XI: Etheridge, Edwards, O'Connor, McCarthy, Cockerill-Mollett, Dobson, Chambers, Oztumer, Morris, Moussa, Jackson