Walsall 1-0 Oldham Athletic
15/01/2014 - 19:45
A stunning stoppage time penalty save by Richard O`Donnell earned the Saddlers completed their first league double of the season to and bring a thrilling end to a match that is unlikely to live long in the memory of any of the 3,522 cold, wet spectators.
The pre-match talk had been all about the return of Febian Brandy following his disastrous loan spell at Sheffield United, and he was thrust back into the starting XI by Dean Smith, to give the Saddlers pace and trickery on both flanks.
Naturally, we opted not to take advantage of this asset as the match descended into a dour and scrappy affair. Oldham were doing their best to out-Walsall us by knocking the ball around well in conditions so heavy that not even we were prepared to try it.
An instantly forgettable first half was almost brought to life after Brandy did what he does best, namely get himself fouled, resulting in Andy Taylor curling an excellent free kick against the post. It was our only real chance of the first half and, going into the break, it did look and feel like a 0-0 game.
The second half began more lively, and Paul Downing was unlucky to be denied twice from successive corners, the first time forcing a save from Mark Oxley and the second seeing his effort deflected wide for another corner.
The deadlock was broken after 65 minutes when a low cross from Romaine Sawyers found its way to Sam Mantom on the edge of the box, who`s effort, despite not being the cleanest strike of a ball he`ll ever hit, was too much for Oxley and settled in the bottom corner to propel us into the playoff positions.
Oldham looked to hit back, and a free kick near the corner of the area brought a smart stop from O`Donnell to keep the lead intact. Having gone through the whole season only throwing away a lead having scored first once prior to Saturday, we did our level best to do it twice in a week following the give away against Tranmere at the weekend. We sat back, then got deeper, conceded silly free kicks on the edge of the box and generally rode our luck. Luck is something we have had in recent weeks, following glaring misses against us by both Tom Eaves of Shrewsbury and Lee Miller of Carlisle, and tonight is was Adam Rooney`s turn to find the prospect of scoring against Walsall just too much to bear. Firstly he produced a comical fresh air kick when he merely had to put his foot through the ball to surely fire the visitors level. Such was the surprise that he`d managed to do such a thing that O`Donnell ran straight into his post and required attention for a couple of minutes.
Happily he was able to recover, and it was a good job as two minutes in the five extra ones indicated by the fourth official, a soft penalty was conceded after Paul Downing breathed on James Wesolowski. I`m sure all keepers know the best way to save penalties is to Oldham (I`m here all week), but the sight of seeing O`Donnell fly to his right to pull off a magnificent save brought a cheer than that which followed the goal. It was not a bad penalty, but it was an excellent save.
The announcement of Brandy as man of the match was almost as ridiculous as the few isolated boos that accompanied the announcement. Granted, it should have gone to O`Donnell, and the way he left us in the summer did leave a sour taste in the mouth (ironically, the first I knew of his re-signing was when I saw it on the news ticker on Sky Sports News), but he`s a Walsall player again now and while he`s on the pitch he should get the support of every Saddler in the ground. If however you do want to spend the entire match booing a specific player, may I point out that Will Grigg is returning on Saturday. I may even join in with that.