The Saddlers suffered a narrow defeat against Salford City at the Peninsula Stadium as a header from Matt Smith in the 5th minute was enough to earn the hosts all three points.
Michael Flynn made four changes to the side that faced off against Leicester City in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday. Conor Wilkinson came into the starting XI for the first time since April of last year alongside full league debutants Jamille Matt, Joe Low and Yann Songo’o with Andy Williams, Brandon Comley, Isaac Hutchison and Robbie Willmott dropping to the bench.
The hosts started brightly and almost opened the scoring in the third minute. A ball in behind the Saddlers defence saw Ethan Galbraith free in space and with Owen Evans out from his goal, the Salford man tried to catch the Walsall number one out with a strike towards goal but the effort hit the side netting.
Salford didn’t rue the opportunity for long as they broke the deadlock shortly after. Ibou Touray retrieved the ball on the left-hand side and delivered a floated ball into the box and Matt Smith was on hand to rise high and head home with an effort which rolled in having ricocheted off the post.
The Saddlers struggled to get going for large parts of the first half but did start to grow and look more threatening at the top end of the pitch.
Tom Knowles picked the ball up in space on 17 minutes after a nod-down from Matt and he tried his luck from outside the box but sliced his effort as it went wide of the mark.
Low also had a chance on 20 minutes as he controlled well from a Knowles delivery in the box before shifting and turning to shoot on his weaker side and his effort trickled wide of the post.
Salford were then unlucky not to double their lead as Luke Bolton pounced onto a loose ball and drove fiercely at goal but his effort ricocheted off a Salford man and after a scramble in the box Ryan Leak, brother of former Saddler Tom, headed towards the far-post but it sailed wide and went out of play.
As half-time approached, Michael Flynn’s side found themselves wondering how they didn’t level the contest. On 41 minutes, a free-kick on the right-hand side found its way to Matt who turned and drilled a fierce drive towards goal and Alex Cairns produced a brilliant save as he tipped it over the bar. Moments later and Cairns was at it again as he and the Salford defence blocked out another three opportunities in quick succession as Neil Wood’s side went into the break with the advantage.
The Saddlers made a bright start to the second half with opportunities. Low played the ball into the path of Donervon Daniels who tried his luck but his effort sailed over the bar with the Saddlers captain leaning back as he struck towards goal.
On 59 minutes, Wilkinson had the ball on the right-hand side and the forward cut inside and struck towards goal but Cairns was on hand again to collect the shot with ease.
Michael Flynn made two changes on 66 minutes in a bid to get back into the game as Hutchinson and Willmott came on in place of Wilkinson and Liam Gordon.
Moments later and a good passage of play from the visitors saw the ball sprayed out to Manny Monthe who delivered a sumptuous ball into the box and Knowles rose high to head towards goal but his effort was straight at the Salford goalkeeper and another chance came and went.
The Saddlers continued to huff and puff but the Salford defence remained resolute as the game reached its conclusion.
Jacob Maddox had an opportunity on 82 minutes as Matt’s lay off saw a fierce drive towards goal parried away by Cairns and the ball eventually found its way into the keeper’s arm via a deflection off a Salford man.
Flynn introduced Williams to the action on 86 minutes in place of Low but the Saddlers were unable to get the all important equaliser and the hosts saw the game out to gain a valuable three points.
Attendance: 2255 (550 away)