Saddlers beaten at St George's Park...
Walsall's pre-season campaign began with a narrow defeat against Championship side Norwich in a behind-closed-doors friendly at St George's Park.
Ryan Bennett's close-range finish put the Canaries ahead on 24 minutes, before Theo Vassell, who only joined the Saddlers yesterday, equalised with a 56th-minute header.
But Norwich regained the lead just four minutes later, Cameron Jerome with a deft near-post flick from Graham Dorrans' corner, for what proved to be the winner.
"It was a really good work out and a really good test," said Walsall manager Jon Whitney afterwards. "We’ve got such high standards and we’re always looking at ways we can improve.
"It’s great that from a coaching perspective, there are some really good things we can work on. From a physical side, we’ve come through it unscathed and that’s the most important thing.
"For a first pre-season game, it was very beneficial for us. The lads who’ve been here for a few years were really good, and some of the new lads really shone."
FULL MATCH REPORT
Norwich made the brighter start with their homegrown striker Carlton Morris twice going close in the early stages.
He first fired off target when under pressure from Rico Henry inside the area before turning Josh Murphy’s low cross wide at the near post.
The Norfolk club were dominant and their first goal duly arrived on 24 minutes.
The impressive Murphy’s deep far-post cross was spilled by Saddlers keeper Neil Etheridge, with Bennett reacting quickest to bundle the ball home from close range.
Walsall responded with Erhun Oztumer having a 30-yard free-kick held by Norwich custodian John Ruddy on the half-hour mark.
The Canaries continued to create the better chances, though, with Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe firing over from range and Steven Naismith testing Etheridge at his near post.
Sebastian Bassong then should have then done better when he headed Odjidja-Ofoe’s cross wide when unmarked.
A completely different Walsall XI emerged for the second 45 and it was Whitney’s men who threatened first, Jordon Sangha firing straight at Declan Rudd from 20 yards.
Saddlers stopper Craig MacGillivray was then called into action, keeping out Jacob Murphy’s low drive at his near post.
The ex-Harrogate man foiled Murphy again moments later, diving full length to his right to push away his curling left-footed drive.
Walsall immediately went down the other end, with Tahvon Campbell, a trialist from West Brom, cutting in from the left and unleasing a powerful strike which Rudd tipped over.
From the resulting corner, Jordon Sangha’s delivery wasn’t dealt with, enabling Vassell to nod home from close range to bring the Saddlers level.
Our joy proved short-lived, however, as Norwich restored their advantage just four minutes later.
Jerome met Dorrans’ corner with a delightful near-post flick which looped over MacGillivray and dropped just inside the far post.
Alex Neil’s side could have extended their lead on 71 minutes, but Marcus Maddison’s goalbound shot was well blocked by Jason McCarthy.
The Saddlers pushed for an equaliser late on, with Vassell going close again with another header from a corner, although this time it was deflected wide.
Norwich ended the game the stronger and could have won by a greater margin.
Dorrans’ well-struck free-kick was batted away one-handed by MacGillivray, and Murphy’s chip was cleared off the line by Vassell.
Walsall first 45: Neil Etheridge, Liam Kinsella, Matt Preston, Jim O’Connor, Rico Henry, Adam Chambers, Milan Butterfield, Kieron Morris, Erhun Oztumer, Flo Cuvelier, Jean-Pierre Nsame.
Walsall second 45: Craig MacGillivray, Joe Edwards, Jason McCarthy, Theo Vassell, Kory Roberts, Isaiah Osbourne, George Dobson, Jordon Sangha, Maz Kouhyar, Tahvon Campbell, Amadou Bakayoko.