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Walsall move to within two games of Wembley

Sport | Published:

Walsall kept their Wembley dream alive in the most dramatic fashion imaginable as they staged a remarkable comeback before beating Tranmere on penalties.

Michael Cain celebrates after scoring a vital goal for Wembley-bound Walsall at Tranmere in the JPT Trophy.

Michael Cain's late stunner capped a stirring fightback to take the tie to penalties and, after Richard O'Donnell had saved from Marc Laird, Paul Downing took his side into the last four of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy with the winning spot-kick.

Half-time substitute Anthony Forde had given Walsall hope after Max Power and Kayode Odejayi gave the hosts a 2-0 half-time lead.

It meant a dream debut for 17-year-old Saddlers defender Rico Henry and successful comeback for leading scorer Tom Bradshaw.

Both sides made a positive start with Tranmere enjoying some decent early possession but it was the visitors who tried their luck early on.

First a free-kick from the left by Michael Cain dropped invitingly for Paul Downing, who saw his firm shot blocked.

Then Henry made a fine attacking burst but had his progress halted by a couple of Rovers defenders on the edge of the area.

And a neat exchange of passes involving Henry and Bradshaw ended with Jordan Cook drilling a low shot just wide from 20 yards.

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Cook was looking eager to take on defenders early on and he won a free-kick 20 yards out when he was body-checked, but Cain curled his effort over the crossbar.

The Saddlers' dominance began to grow and they should have been ahead midway through the first half when a fine surge in-field by Cook was followed by an excellent ball for Bradshaw, who peeled away from his marker expertly.

Bradshaw hit the target with his shot but was denied by a smart save by Owain Fon Williams.

And moments later Bradshaw brought another save from Fon Williams with a smart shot on the turn but this time it was a comfortable stop for the Welshman.

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Bradshaw continued to look dangerous and just before the half-hour he got the faintest of touches on an excellent inswinging free-kick from Cain, forcing Fon Williams into another scrambled save.

The Saddlers had enjoyed the better chances but Tranmere had also looked lively and they took the lead in fine fashion seven minutes before half-time.

The goal came down the left as wing-back Liam Ridehalgh made progress and found Power in space, with the talented midfielder shifting the ball onto his right foot and curling a wonderful effort from the corner of the penalty area past Richard O'Donnell and inside the far post.

The Saddlers almost responded immediately, first when Cain moved down the right and misdirected his cross and then when Cain had a shot blocked.

But two minutes before the interval Rovers doubled their lead to leave the Saddlers with a mountain to climb.

A right-wing corner found Odejayi at the far post and his towering header crept in past O'Donnell.

More dreadful defending almost killed off any hopes of a Walsall comeback when the handed Janoi Donacien a free header from a Power corner six minutes into the second half.

The big defender got a powerful header on target but Richard O'Donnell pulled off a fine, reaction save to prevent the hosts adding a third goal.

The Saddlers, who had been forced to replace the injured Jordan Cook with Forde at half-time, then introduced Mathieu Manset from the bench in place of an ineffective James Baxendale.

But Smith opted to field the big striker wide on the left in an effort to exploit the spaces behind the wing-backs in Tranmere's 3-5-2 system.

Forde saw plenty of the ball but was unable to unlock the door and O'Donnell had to make a routine, low save to keep out a Steve Jennings shot just after the hour-mark.

However, on 63 minutes the Saddlers had hope.

A fabulous defence-splitting ball by Ben Purkiss found Forde, who kept his composure and, with no support, cut between two defenders and drilled home a left-footed shot.

The changed had worked well for the Saddlers, who had their hosts rattled and penned back inside their own defensive third in the closing stages.

And, as the visitors laid siege to the Rovers goal, they saw a 25-yard shot from Forde deflect narrowly wide of the target with 16 minutes to play moments after Cain had had a strong penalty appeal turned down by referee Geoff Eltringham after a clumsy challenge by Marcus Holness.

Tranmere were panicking and the dam was finally breached with 10 minutes remaining thanks to Cain's rocket.

The ball dropped to him 25 yards out and he let fly with an a upstoppable left-footed drive that flew past Fon Williams before the keeper could react.

The equaliser seemed to inspire Tranmere, however, and with seven minutes remaining they were denied when Romaine Sawyers made a fantastic goalline clearance to keep out Donacien's free header from a corner by Power.

And moments later Odejayi was celebrating a crisp 'goal' before noticing an offside flag.

In the dying moments Bradshaw had a chance to give his side a dramatic win but he snatched at his shot and it went wide, and seconds later former Saddlers loanee Marc Laird found himself in space in the box and he dragged a shot just wide.

That took the tie to penalties and Walsall looked to be heading out when Ashley Grimes saw his kick saved by Fon Williams, meaning Liam Ridehalgh only had to score to take Tranmere through.

But he struck the bar, O'Donnell saved from Laird and Downing sent Saddlers fans into raptures.

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