Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
A first goal in Senior football for Larnell Cole wasn’t enough to prevent ten-man Shrewsbury from a sixth home defeat in SKY Bet League One this evening. Cole pounced just before the interval to coolly slot home but the lead lasted barely four minutes. Milan Lalkovic levelled for high-flyers Walsall on 45 minutes and when Ian Black received a second yellow card for an innocuous looking tackle on Paul Downing, it handed the impetus to the West Midlands side. And they took advantage with Downing really rubbing salt into the wounds by heading the Saddlers in front in the last 10 minutes. Sub Jordan Cook’s injury time third simply served to compound Shrewsbury’s misery.
Micky Mellon stuck with an unchanged side after the weekend draw against Gillingham, and it was his team that got the match underway defending the Salop Leisure Stand end of the Stadium.
A deep hanging cross from Jermaine Grandison in the first couple of minutes had to be gathered at the second attempt by Neil Etheridge, and Lalkovic lashed one well wide for the visitors.
Town had a lucky escape when Romaine Sawyers clattered Jayson Leutwiler’s left hand post from 25 yards after 14 minutes in the first real attempt on goal. The match up until that point had been littered with errors by both sides with plenty of misplaced passes, and several examples of poor control when the ball was played to feet only to go into touch.
George Evans bent one over the top from distance and then Black from a similar range tested Etheridge for the first time.
Ex-Town frontman Tom Bradshaw went down under a heavy challenge from NKP in the centre circle, and he wasn’t able to recover – being replaced by Cook on 27 minutes. The Town fans were merciless in their ribbing of the sizeable away following who had rolled out every Tom Bradshaw song in their repertoire from the first whistle.
James O’Connor fired straight at Leutwiler after Lalkovic’s free-kick had only been partially cleared by the Shrews defence, and Walsall were starting to look like a side harbouring thoughts of promotion. Despite the blow of losing manager Dean Smith to Championship side Brentford yesterday, the Saddlers’ ball retention was a little bit better than Salop’s giving them a more than equal share of possession.
But, slightly against the run of play, Town struck four minutes before half-time. James Collins won the ball well and Scott Vernon expertly guided the ball through to Cole. With just Etheridge blocking his route to goal, the youngster steered the ball beyond him and into the net. There was much to admire once again from Vernon who has found the knack of supplying killer passes since getting his chance in the first team.
And Collins should have doubled the tally minutes later when Sullay Kaikai’s cross was diverted into the birthday boy’s path. But, standing only seven or eight yards out he volleyed well wide to let Walsall off the hook.
It proved to be a costly miss too as the away side struck in the last minute of the half. And it was Lalkovic who seemed to wrong foot Leutwiler with a well struck shot that swerved past his right hand from outside the box to restore parity.
Half-Time: Town 1 Walsall 1
When the teams came back out, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro had taken the place of goalscorer, Cole.
As play resumed, Downing headed wide when well placed from a Keiron Morris corner early in the half, and Town midfielder Black was needlessly carded for throwing the ball away – picking up a fifth yellow and an automatic one match ban in the process. It would get much, much worse for the Scot.
Downing then followed Black into the referee’s notebook with a crude looking tackle on Collins, before Grandison and Akpa Akpro combined to tee up Kaikai, who forced Etheridge into a simple save.
With 18 minutes left Black went into a tackle he was never going to win, but when man mountain Downing stayed down after the most minimal contact from the Town man, and the official was then surrounded by Walsall players, the second yellow came out followed quickly by the red. Black had barely made the touchline before the suddenly invigorated figure of Downing miraculously found his feet again. That said, with Black walking the tightrope already, he was ill-advised to have gone in for the ball the way he did.
Walsall smelled blood and Sawyers brought a tremendous save out of Leutwiler with a venomous strike that was bound for the net. Both sides traded a substitute apiece with Liam Lawrence taking the place of Vernon with 12 minutes left. Cook was way too high with a passable opportunity just after the changes and Town were up against it for sure.
The pressure was intensifying and when Anthony Forde’s corner found the head of resident pantomime villain Downing, the defender’s header flew into the bottom corner to send the 1500 strong away contingent into delirium behind that goal.
Jason Demetriou’s deflected effort landed on top of the bar as Walsall went in for the kill, seeking a third goal that would end the contest. It came too in the dying seconds of added on time when Cook struck the ball high into the net to seal the points.
They were good value for their win, but how much bearing that decision to send off Black at one apiece had on the outcome of the game, I suppose we’ll never know.
Full-Time: Town 1 Walsall 3
Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Anthony Gerrard, Nat Knight-Percival, Jermaine Grandison, Ian Black, Larnell Cole (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 46), Abu Ogogo, James Collins (c), Scott Vernon (Liam Lawrence, 78), Junior Brown, Sullay Kaikai
Subs not used: Mark Halstead (GK), Liam McAlinden, Shaun Whalley, Dom Smith, Tyrone Barnett
Walsall: Neil Etheridge, Jason Demetriou, James O’Connor, Paul Downing, Adam Chambers (c), Tom Bradshaw (Jordan Cook, 27), Romaine Sawyers, Rico Henry, Milan Lalkovic (Anthony Forde, 78), Kieron Morris (James Baxendale, 90), George Evans
Subs not used: Andy Taylor, Sam Mantom, Craig MacGillivray, Matt Preston
Referee: Peter Bankes
Assistants: Marvyn Amphlett & Wayne Barratt
Fourth Official: Amy Fearn
Attendance: 6,078 (1,472 from Walsall)