Stevenage 3 Walsall 1 - analysis and pictures

Expectation checked but not the enthusiasm. Obstacles occur in any journey, it’s about how you deal with the diversion.

Walsall may have lost their five match unbeaten run after last night’s 3-1 defeat at Stevenage but there was little to suggest it will derail their determination.

The result was disappointing but the performance less so. The Saddlers never reached their potential but that they never resorted to hit and hope shows the belief in the Dean Smith way.

It wasn’t to be as George Bowerman’s third of the season, sandwiched between Robin Shroot’s opener and Greg Tansey’s 30-yard thunderbolt, gave the Saddlers false hope.

Lucas Akins’ strike four minutes from time ended Walsall’s spirited efforts to stall the charge which had been so welcome.

The manager has always preached caution over Walsall’s start. Eleven points from their opening seven games is a healthy return given the opposition.

It is one which many would have accepted and once Saturday’s visit of Preston is completed Walsall would have played four of the top seven, putting their efforts into impressive context.

Following the opening day defeat to Doncaster the Saddlers reacted in style to carve out a five-game run which was ended at Broadhall Way.

It is one they must repeat if they want to ensure the start and new-found positivity does not evaporate.

Last night was a dent in what is a promising team and they can take great heart from Stevenage, last season’s surprise package.

Boro had lost former manager Graham Westley and a raft of player since the summer but boss Gary Smith had kept some of the tricks which had turned Stevenage from a non-league side to serious League One contenders.

Gone was the ‘up and under’ approach adopted by Westley and while Boro were physical – too much so according to Walsall – they used the ball efficiently.

It was the acid test of the Saddlers’ style and philosophies which have served them so well in their industrious opening.

Dean Smith’s imprint on the team has been there since day one but it is starting to show its worth as players picked from the sidelines tread the frontline.

A team who, individually, may not match the opposition like-for-like but together can out-perform most.

And they were unchanged from Saturday’s Portsmouth success with Adam Chambers and Febian Brandy still out with hamstring injuries.

James Baxendale again backed up lone striker Bowerman against Stevenage’s physical might.

Boro stifled the Saddlers’ threat, refusing to give them time on the ball, but it only served to conjure a scrappy opening.

That Luke Freeman’s sliced effort after 20 minutes was the game’s first serious chance only highlighted the subdued start.

But it sparked to life after 25 minutes when Stevenage went ahead through ex-Birmingham winger Shroot.

Neat play between Anthony Grant and Akins found Shroot 20-yards out and he held off Dean Holden to turn and fire past Grof for his fifth goal of the season.

The Saddlers found themselves behind without having done much wrong.

And they almost grabbed a fortunate equaliser when Ashley Hemmings’ 40-yard free kick caught out Chris Day and bounced against the far post.

Walsall faded though, Bowerman isolated as the midfield failed to produce and unbeaten Stevenage grew in confidence.

Grof palmed away Shroot’s header 10 minutes after the re-start before the Saddlers levelled on the hour.

Substitute Will Grigg won a corner and when Jamie Paterson’s cross was returned to him the winger clipped in a delightful centre for Bowerman to power in.

The striker had barely had a sniff but lived up to his growing goalscoring reputation.

But rather than re-energise Walsall it inspired Stevenage as Shroot, Grant and Akins peppered the Saddlers’ goal from distance.

And Tansey finally found Boro’s range to make it 2-1 on 73 minutes when found the top corner with a rasping 30-yard drive.

Bowerman had a chance to reply instantly but he fired straight at Day from 15-yards as the Saddlers faded again.

And it was all over four minutes from time when Akins finished a flowing move involving ex-Albion striker Marcus Haber and Tansey.

There was no time to hit back and it’s the way it goes sometimes. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again but the trick is how to recover.

Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire)

Walsall (4-4-1-1): Grof; Purkiss, Butler, Holden, A Taylor (Taundry, 79); Paterson, Cuvelier, Featherstone, Hemmings (Grigg, 57); Baxendale (Williams, 78); Bowerman. Subs not used: C Taylor, Downing, J Jones, R Jones (gk).

Stevenage (4-4-2): Day; Gray; Ashton, Roberts, Comminges; Freeman (Dunne, 76), Tansey, Grant, Akins; Agyemang (Haber, 61), Shroot (Risser, 89). Subs not used: Ball, Lopez, N’Gala, Arnold (gk).

Booked: Grant

Attendance: 2,634