Writer: Robyn Richards
Date:Wednesday January 26 2011
The Saddlers grafted last night and won a deserved point against Oldham Athletic.
Under the rejuvenation of temporary manager Dean Smith, Walsall were organised and toothy throughout, keeping 6th placed Athletic at bay. It may only be a single point, but it's a sign in the right direction.
In another shake-up, injuries to Richard Taundry (ankle) and Manny Smith (unknown) saw Lancashire start in defence as Nicholls slotted in the right wing position, allowing Will Grigg back into the starting lineup up front.
The game started the home side the strongest as Grigg and Nicholls came close early on, with both efforts going wide of the target. Westlake then received a yellow for a tackle on Oldham's Dale Stephens.
The Saddlers continued the good work in passing the ball around with their heads held high. A stark contrast the defeats at the start of the month.
Despite the more positive effort, the first half was not without its heart stopping moments for the home supporters, and as the half was coming to a close, Chris Taylor skipped past the Walsall defence and looked to take the lead, but Walker was on hand to palm the ball away from danger. Grigg then had two good chance on goal but both times failed to find the vital strike.
Oldham took the lead on minute 39, disappointingly after a good first half for the Saddlers. Even more disappointingly, they conceded from another corner. The ball came in and it bobbled around the penalty area, the defence unable to get a boot on it and away from danger. It came out to Dale Stephens on the left who passed to Felipe Morais to put the ball away. 0-1. The Saddlers battling, but did not show as much finesse as their opponents. In the remaining minutes of the first 45, Walsall didn't quite re-find their feet and all were relieved when the whistle blew.
As the second half started, Athletic came out the better side. Lancashire was unable to deal with Oumare Tounkare alone as he pounced, but Walker saved any blushes by coming off his line and blocking his shot.
However, equilibrium was restored on 61 minutes as Westlake hit the Saddlers level. With the box crowded Gray found Macken, who touched it the waiting defender who fired with passion into the back of the net. An excellent strike from an unlikely source and it was game on for the Saddlers. 1-1
A few minutes later, Walker was on hand to block a Taylor shot for Athletic as they looked dangerous once again. The veteran goalie becoming ever more pinnacle in the Saddlers fight for survival.
A Butler shot a few minutes later was saved by Oldham goalkeeper Amos, who just about kept the ball out of the goal after he dubiously crossed reaching for the save. Unlucky for the Saddlers as that could have gifted them a goal.
As the remainder of the game was played out, it was fairly even for both sides, as they continued to pass the ball around with no increased threat from either side. Good to see the Saddlers coming up against stronger opposition and not letting themselves down at all.
As a revival goes, this is a step in the right direction. Walsall seemed to have a renewed confidence and they are playing with conviction. As they lie bottom with twenty points and a goal difference of -23, their future in league one is unknown but on performances like this they can rest a (little) bit easier.
Date:Wednesday January 26 2011
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