EFL Trophy: Shrewsbury 2 Walsall 1 - Report and pictures
Walsall crashed out the Checkatrade Trophy after falling to a 2-1 loss to West Midlands rivals Shrewsbury.
In what was manager Sam Rickett’s first game in charge of the Shropshire side, goals from Alex Gilliead and Doug Loft put the hosts in charge at the Montgomery Waters Meadow stadium.
Walsall pulled a goal back through Kieron Morris in a second half that also saw Joe Edwards make his eagerly anticipated return after injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last season.
But while the Saddlers went on to apply lots of late pressure, they were unable to find a winner with Shrewsbury, overall, deserving winners.
Keates sprung a surprise when naming his starting line-up with the boss opting to play with a back three for the first time under his reign.
Russell Martin, Jack Fitzwater and Jon Guthrie were the three centre-backs with skipper for the night Luke Leahy at left wing-back and Kane Wilson on the right.
Up front, Morgan Ferrier was deployed as a lone striker with Kieron Morris and Connor Ronan just behind in what was effectively a 5-2-2-1 system.
Shrewsbury made 10 changes from their FA Cup clash with Scunthorpe with Lee Angol and Lenell John-Lewis up front in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
The visit of Walsall got Shrewsbury’s new era under Ricketts under way and, like under his predecessors, the boss made wholesale changes for the competition.
Last season’s finalists Town made 10 changes from the side that beat Scunthorpe 1-0 in Sunday’s FA Cup clash.
The only player to remain was Alex Gilliead, who moved back out to his traditional wide position in an orthodox 4-4-2.
There were rare outings for Kieran Kennedy and youngster Ryan Sears as a centre-half pairing, with Doug Loft and Charlie Colkett getting the nod in central midfield.
Lee Angol, left out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, partnered skipper Lenell John-Lewis in attack.
In what was a frantic opening five minutes, both teams created good chances to open the scoring.
It was Shrewsbury who threatened first when - after a succession of corners - Kieran Kennedy glanced a header just inches past the upright.
Then at the other end, Morris whipped in an inviting cross which Ferrier nodded narrowly wide.
Town responded with Ryan Haynes hitting the byline before sending in a dangerous cross that nobody gambled on. The full-back then saw a fierce strike from 25-yards punched away by Chris Dunn.
It had been Walsall who had seen more of the ball as the clock ticked past the 20 minute mark.
But Shrewsbury were then presented with two glorious chances to open the scoring, with Keates’ men the architects of their own down-fall each time.
First, Wilson inexplicably presented the ball to John-Lewis in the box with the striker then firing pass Dunn.
But Wilson managed to atone for his error with the Albion loanee darting back onto the line to block the striker’s effort.
Just a minute later, Town threatened again when Abo Eisa’s shot was punched by Dunn right into the path of Angol.
But just six-yards out the striker then fired over when he had the entire goal to aim at.
Rickett’s side should have been two goals up but midway though the half they did get their noses in front.
A corner fell for Gilliead on the edge of the box and he then arrowed a strike through a host of bodies and into the corner of the net.
After Walsall’s decent start, it was Shrewsbury who were now comfortably on top with Luke Waterfall arrowing a long-ball forward which John-Lewis turned wide with a first-time volley.
The Saddlers had struggled for width all half with Ferrier starved of service up front.
But they almost got on terms just before the break when Kinsella’s pass was squeezed through to Ferrier by Ronan.
The striker then did well to work himself some space in the box but, under pressure from two defenders, he blazed a strike over the bar.
Walsall’s error strewn display continued after the break. Jon Guthrie handed it to Gilliead and the winger’s deep cross was nodded down by Eisa for John-Lewis but the Town man fired over on the spin.
The Roland Wycherley Stand, the only stand open, erupted into applause after the hour as Ricketts sent on Shaun Whalley for his return from injury. The winger’s first display since injury against Sunderland on October 20.
Walsall's change saw them switch to a midfield diamond formation with Ronan at the base, Kinsella and Osbourne central and Morris at the top. Zeli Ismail joined Ferrier up front.
Walsall boss Keates sent on Joe Edwards, Walsall's player of the year last season, for his first appearance since rupturing his anterior cruciate knee ligament against Blackburn way back in February.
With 18 minutes remaining smart thinking from Whalley slipped a short corner back to Loft 25 yards from goal. The former Port Vale man took a touch before his strike took a huge deflection and flew into the top corner.
It was the 31-year-old’s first goal for Salop in his fourth appearance.
But moments later the visitors halved the deficit as pacy winger Morris lashed in from the edge of box via a slight deflection.
The Saddlers rallied late on in search of an equaliser and Morris flicked a header wide when found unmarked from a corner.
But Town held on comfortably to progress to round three.
Shrewsbury Town (4-4-2):
Coleman; Emmanuel, Sears, Kennedy, Haynes; Gilliead (Whalley, 63), Loft, Colkett, Eisa (McAtee, 90+1); John-Lewis © (Rowland, 78), Angol.
Subs not used: Gregory (gk), Taylor, Shelis.
Walsall (3-5-2): Dunn, Martin (Ismail, 63), Guthrie, Fitzwater, Leahy, Wilson, Osbourne (Kouhyar, 75), Kinsella (Edwardsm 70), Ronan, Morris, Ferrier.
Subs not used: Roberts, Devlin, Cook, Gordon.
Referee: Peter Wright
Attendance: 1,857 (239 Walsall fans)