Checkatrade Trophy: Burton Albion 1 Walsall 2 - Report and pictures
Walsall kicked off their Checkatrade Trophy campaign by securing a 2-1 win at Burton Albion.
Goals from Kieron Morris and Josh Gordon saw the Saddlers run out deserved winners at the Pirelli Stadium in what was their first clash in Group E.
Nigel Clough’s men netted a late consolation when Marcus Harness fired in.
But overall, Walsall thoroughly deserved their win Conan Ronan and Morris the standout performers.
Boss Dean Keates opted to ring the changes when naming his starting line-up with the boss giving a host of players a chance to impress.
After receiving clearance following their loan moves from Wolves on Saturday, Connor Johnson and Connor Ronan both made their Saddlers debuts.
There were also first starts of the season for Jordan Sangha and Dylan Parker with Maz Kouhyar, Kane Wilson and Josh Gordon also coming into the side.
It meant Keates made eight changes from the team that drew with Blackpool on Saturday - with Sangha and Ronan in central midfield, Johnson joining Jack Fitzwater at the heart of the defence and Parker alongside Gordon in attack in a 4-4-2 formation.
Burton, who lined up in a 4-3-3 system, made seven changes from the weekend with Devante Cole the central striker and Lukas Akins and Will Miller either side.
At that was an eerily quiet Pirelli Stadium, both teams showed their intent to get the ball down and play in what was a lively opening few minutes.
But it was the Saddlers who took the lead with the game’s first real chance after Kouhyar did brilliantly to trick his way past two defenders.
The winger then stood up a cross to the back post which Morris headed home - with the goal meaning the 24-year-old had netted on three consecutive Tuesday’s.
Keates’ men were looking good on the ball with Ronan particularly bright in central midfield.
Burton, in contrast, were having spells of possession but without ever looking that threatening.
And the Saddlers went on to double their advantage just before the half-hour mark with an excellent team goal.
After the ball was worked to Morris, the winger spread the play to the right where Devlin flew past his marker before sending in a low cross that was begging to be tapped home.
And it was Gordon who obliged with the striker charging in before slamming the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Burton responded with Miller and Cole both seeing shots blocked after a Jake Flannigan ball into the box.
Clough’s side then came a whisker away from pulling a goal back when Akins powered a header towards goal from a corner.
But Sangha was perfectly placed on the goal line - with the midfielder first heading up and against the bar before clearing at the second attempt.
And from that point, the Saddlers saw out the half in relative comfort with Liam Roberts not tested between the posts.
It was the hosts who threatened first after the re-start with Akins sending in a dangerous cross which Kyle McFadzean bundled wide despite being well placed just yards from goal.
Walsall then came to extending their lead just past the hour mark when Gordon darted at goal before firing narrowly wide.
Keates made a double change in the 72nd minute with Callum Cockerill-Mollett and Tobias Hayles-Docherty replacing Morris and Parker.
It meant Hayles-Docherty partnered Gordon in attack with Kane Wilson moving from left-back to right-back while Devlin pushed forward to right-midfield.
Walsall made their final change in the 85th minute with Cook replacing Johnson after the defender picked up a minor knock.
Keates’ side had defended excellently all evening with a defender seemingly always in the right place whenever Burton got the ball into the boc.
But the Brewers did pull a goal back in the 89th minute when Marvin Sordell found Harness in the box who then powered a strike past Roberts.
Incredibly, in stoppage time Hesketh drilled a strike wide from the edge of the box. Elliot Hodge also headed wide following a whipped ball into the box.
But Walsall held on for what, overall, was a thoroughly deserved victory.
Burton (4-3-3): Campbell, Flannigan (Hodge 59), McFadzean, Turner, Hutchinson, Allen, Sbarra, Hesketh, Akins, Cole (Harness 72), Miller (Sordell 59).
Subs not used: Collins, Harness, Fox, Fraser, Beardsley.
Walsall (4-4-2): Roberts, Wilson, Fitzwater, Johnson (Cook 85), Devlin, Morris (Hayles-Docherty 72), Sangha, Ronan, Kouhyar, Gordon, Parker (Cockerill-Mollett 72).
Subs not used: Dunn, Guthrie, Dobson, Osbourne.