Saddlers sign James Baxendale

Walsall today snapped up winger James Baxendale on a one-year deal as boss Dean Smith made it three signings in two days.

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Walsall today snapped up winger James Baxendale on a one-year deal as boss Dean Smith made it three signings in two days.

Baxendale, 19, joins ex-Villa reserve striker Connor Taylor, 18, and Albion centre-back Paul Downing, 20, who penned similar contracts yesterday. Right-sided Baxendale started his career at Leeds before joining Doncaster this time last year.

He made three substitute’s appearances at Keepmoat Stadium but came under the eye of Saddlers assistant boss Richard O’Kelly when he signed him on loan for Hereford last season, appearing once.

“James is a skilful player who understands the game,” said manager Dean Smith.

“We’ve had him here since the start of pre-season and during that time he has displayed fantastic commitment and a real work ethic.

“We see him as someone who is really going to push on and do well for us. He’s a ball carrier who can see a pass and has the ability to unlock defences.

“He will bring an exciting dimension to our play.”

Villa captured striker Taylor, 18, from Coventry Sphinx and he progressed through the youth and reserve teams before being loaned to Tamworth last season prior to his release this summer.

“Connor has really impressed us since the start of pre-season,” said Smith.

“He’s got bags of pace and ability and is a player of real potential. We won’t be rushing him and hopefully he’ll step up to the plate for us.”

Downing – the nephew of Baggies assistant boss Keith, the former Wolves midfielder – came through the ranks at Albion where he made excellent progress before earning a contract.

Having made it onto the first-team bench for the Baggies, he was loaned out to Hereford.

Further loan spells followed at Rotherham, Shrewsbury and Barnet, who extended his stay last term, before he was released from The Hawthorns.

“He’s really impressed us over the past few weeks and is a player we feel we can really develop,” said Smith.

* Jake Jones and Febian Brandy scored Walsall’s goals as a young Saddlers side won 2-1 at Redditch last night.