Walsall 1 Notts County 1 - match analysis and pictures

A horrible game played on a horrible pitch – sometimes you’ve just got to get your hands dirty.

The Walsall groundstaff may have to roll up the sleeves and grab the tools but they will only be following the players’ lead.

As a game, Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Notts County was as untidy as a student’s bedsit, given the nature of the potato-patch pitch which has been ravaged by the weather.

Hardly conducive to flowing football, both teams battled for a hard-earned result which does neither side’s play-off hopes any favours.

Not that you would find Dean Smith – publicly at least – talking up Walsall’s charge, despite relegation talk being banished long ago.

The point, though, does emphasise how far the squad has come in a short space of time. No-one would argue it was a fair result but two months ago it would have been a game Walsall would have lost.

Under second-half pressure, conceding an equaliser to Yoann Arquin, and allowing Alan Judge to squander County’s other best chances, the Saddlers could have crumbled.

But they didn’t. The dressing room was content, if not delirious, with a point which edged them closer to that 50-point target.

The grit and determination not to be beaten shows how far the Saddlers have come since ending that 16-game barren run.

While there was initial disappointment they were not able to capitalise on Will Grigg’s penalty opener, that subsided with the proof they are stronger, more battle-hardened, than ever before.

Over the previous 10 games, which had yielded eight wins, the Saddlers had brushed aside leaders Bournemouth and damaged Doncaster’s promotion hopes.

That almighty injection of confidence has primed Walsall for a big finish but Saturday proved they have not substituted the substance for mere skill.

It was of those games you take what you can from and move on. Not one for the purists, despite Walsall’s admirable attempts to keep playing the football which has shot them up the table.

Should they fail to reach the top six – an optimistic target given the league’s lay-out – then they will be better next season.

Keep the squad together – as the club have been trying to do – and there could be a chance. Hanging on to Jamie Paterson would give them further hope.

The 21-year-old has come of age this season and while he, like others, battled on the sodden surface his undoubted quality shone through.

County struggled to contain him with tricks and flicks coupled with an exceptional workrate, highlighted when he dashed the length of the pitch to halt a Magpies break – from a corner he had taken.

And from Paterson’s ingenuity Walsall carved the first chance when his pass found Grigg to round Bartosz Bialkowski, only for Judge to hack off the line after just six minutes.

From then a scrappy impasse remained until the 28th minute when Sam Mantom won the ball in midfield and launched a pass over the top to Paterson who was clattered in the area by the sprawling Bialkowski.

Grigg sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot – after a delay following a flare landing on the pitch.

County caretaker boss Chris Kiwomya – who once scored four goals for Ipswich against Walsall – flung on the cavalry in Arquin at half-time and the game changed.

The substitute was denied by Ian McLoughlin on 55 minutes after he seized on James Chambers’ awful back-pass.

Judge then volleyed over when the Saddlers failed to clear Alan Sheehan’s free-kick as County turned the screw.

And they levelled on 66 minutes when Arquin poked in Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s centre after wriggling free of Paul Downing.

It opened up the game as the Saddlers responded and Craig Westcarr – who had earlier seen a shot blocked – should have earned a penalty after he was sent tumbling.

But County could have snatched it in injury time when Arquin headed wide from two yards – although any winner would have been unjust.

By Nick Mashiter