MATCH SPONSORED BY
Notts County were defeated for the first time this season, as Walsall triumphed at Meadow Lane. Andy Butler’s late finish secured all three points for the visitors, after Notts had failed to make the most of their chances.
The Magpies were superior in the opening 45, with Alan Sheehan carving out multiple opportunities for his teammates. Lee Hughes, Jeff Hughes and Joss Labadie all came close but the teams went into the break at 0-0.
The second period presented a tighter contest. Jeff Hughes and Neal Bishop had good chances for Notts, whilst Ashley Hemmings and Ben Purkiss failed to register for the Saddlers.
There were only 10 minutes remaining when Butler found the net with the decisive goal, a composed finish from a set-play. County’s late offenses proved unsuccessful, partly down to goalkeeper David Grof, who made a fine parry during added time to keep out substitute Tyrell Waite.
Four minutes into the first half, Alan Judge was first to threaten after popping up in the space between the away midfield and defence, only his drive towards the bottom-left corner was gathered by former County stopper Grof. A minute later, from one of Sheehan’s dangerous corners, Dean Leacock headed into the path of Labadie, who drilled inches wide of the target.
Jeff Hughes was next to be denied, when he drifted inside from the right wing to force Grof into another save, this time inside the near post. Labadie then dragged wide, following Bishop’s superb, ball-winning challenge in the final third.
The Saddlers rarely caused the Notts’ rearguard any trouble. However, Sheehan had to produce a fine block to prevent Ben Purkiss’ centre from finding a man and Bartosz Bialkowski had to retreat back to his goal line to prevent Jamie Paterson’s corner from finding the net.
Bialkowski then allowed the Magpies to counter attack with a direct punt upfield, which forced an error at the back. Lee Hughes wasted no time in picking out Judge with a cross-field pass, but Purkiss and James Chambers were able to regroup and eliminate the danger.
Sheehan’s deliveries from wide caused the away backline plenty of problems. One of the full-back’s crosses from the left flank saw Julian Kelly’s back-post volley deflected off Lee Hughes and Grof only just managed to direct the ball around the post.
Sheehan was involved again moments after and his pacy centre allowed Lee Hughes to find Jeff Hughes with a placed header. Last season’s top-scorer volleyed powerfully at goal and was unfortunate to find the wrong side of the woodwork.
The dying stages of the half could have seen either side take the lead. Sheehan, latching onto Kelly’s back-post cross, saw his sliding finish diverted over by Purkiss, before Bialkowski was required to tip Hemmings’ in-swinging free-kick around the post.
Within seconds of the restart, Jeff Hughes struck wide, after Lee Hughes capitalised on a defensive error to set him free inside the box. Apart from the slip, the visitors looked much brighter in the early stages of the second period and thought they had found the net when Hemmings’ first-time finish, created by Florent Cuvelier’s delightful, weighted pass, was directed into the side netting, narrowly past the top-right corner.
On 50, Bishop nearly netted for the second time in a week, when, following determined work by Labadie, Boucaud found him at the back post, via a Lee Hughes flick-on. The skipper composed himself and aimed for the top-right corner but was unable to keep his effort on target.
As both teams continued to threaten, the danger man Hemmings curled marginally wide, with his shot deflecting back off the stanchion. Jeff Hughes then nodded wide, after connecting with Sheehan’s swerved delivery.
Prior to the Saddlers taking the lead, they showed signs that an opener was coming, with substitute George Bowerman and Paterson coming close. Cuvelier also tested Bialkowski with a low hit from the edge of the box.
A free-kick from deep enabled Walsall to beat Bialkowski 10 minutes from time. Purkiss floated his pass over the home defence and Butler timed his run perfectly to apply a calm finish into the bottom-right corner.
By this time, Notts had moved from 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, with Gavin Mahon and Enoch Showunmi replacing Labadie and Boucaud. Following the goal, Sheehan was withdrawn and Tyrell Waite introduced in an attempt to salvage something from the game.
The frontman almost made an immediate impact, beating his man on the left ahead of testing Grof with a left-footed attempt. Showunmi later placed wide from Judge’s right-wing cross.
Four minutes of added time gave the home faithful hope but their team were unable to find a way back. They will have a chance to get back to winning ways next Saturday, when they travel to Gigg Lane to take on Bury.