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Walsall 1 Forest Green 1 - Report and pictures

By Joseph Masi | Walsall FC | Published:

Substitute James Hardy netted on his Football League debut as Walsall secured a 1-1 draw against Forest Green Rovers in their first home match of the 2019/20 campaign.

In front of 5,205 fans at the Banks's Stadium, the Saddlers did everything but score in a first-half they dominated with the visitors unable to live with their tenacity and desire to press.

But Darrell Clarke's side failed to break the deadlock with James Clarke then gifting the visitors a penalty in first-half stoppage time.

That was converted by Joseph Mills in what would be Rovers only shot on target throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Walsall went in search of an equaliser throughout the second-half.

And it was the impressive Hardy who got it when he reacted first to tap into an empty net after Josh Gordon had seen an over-head kick hit the post.

Report

Walsall were dealt a blow before kick-off when it was revealed Danny Guthrie would miss the game through injury.

Gary Liddle was the man who replaced him in the middle of the park.

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Otherwise, the Saddlers were unchanged from the win at Northampton with Clarke sticking with a 3-5-2 formation that saw Elijah Adebayo partner Josh Gordon in attack.

Forest Green lined up in a 3-5-1-1 system with Aaron Collins operating in a slightly withdrawn role behind Shawn McCoulsky up front.

The opening 20 minutes set the tone for what was an intriguing tactical battle with the hosts determined to play out from the keeper and pass the ball on the floor.

Walsall's tenacity and clever pressing ensured they were the better side, though, with Adebayo particularly bright.

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With Clarke's men continually winning the ball high up the pitch, it felt as if it was only a matter of time before they would open the scoring.

And they almost broke the deadlock just before the half-hour mark with Cameron Norman seeing a delicious free-kick beaten away by a diving Lewis Thomas.

They then threatened again moments later when Norman's cross was met by Liam Kinsella.

But the midfielder's volley went up instead of towards goal with Adebayo then sending a header into the arms of the keeper.

The dominant hosts had done everything but score with the Saddlers threatening again when Adebayo did well to burst past Nathan McGinley and to the byline.

But while the striker sent in a dangerous low cross, a defender got to the ball just ahead of Gordon.

Undeterred, Walsall continued to press and again came close to breaking the deadlock just before the break.

After good work down the left, the ball was worked to Kinsella who then saw a goal-bound shot from 20-yards deflect inches wide.

Walsall had been completely dominant but Rovers took the lead in first-half stoppage time when they were gifted a penalty.

Clarke tried to shepherd the ball out of play but touched it and then inexplicably back-heeled it to keep it in play.

That allowed Collins to pounce with defender then hauling the former Wolves man to the floor.

Joseph Mills took the resultant spot-kick and found the bottom right corner despite Liam Roberts diving the right way.

The opening stages of the second half proved a lot more even.

And that prompted Clarke into a double change just before the hour mark.

Rory Holden and Hardy replaced Mat Sadler and Liddle with the duo operating wide but often tucking in.

And Hardy almost made an immediate impact with the former Flyde man doing brilliantly to trick his way away from his marker before firing over from 18-yards.

With 15 minutes remaining Caolan Lavery replaced Norman.

It was Hardy and Holden who were making a big difference though with Hardy again going close after the duo combined.

A delightful lofted past from Holden found his teammate in the box but, on the angle, Hardy then saw a strike from six-yards saved by the keeper.

In the 86th minute though, Hardy did get the goal his team deserved.

After Holden sent in a cross, Gordon produced an acrobatic over-head kick with the ball hitting the post.

But Hardy was in the right place to tap into the empty net and ensure Walsall remain unbeaten at the start of the 2019/20 campaign.

Teams

Walsall: Roberts, Clarke, Scarr, Sadler (Holden 58), Norman (Lavery 75), Pring, Liddle (Hardy 58), Sinclair, Kinsella, Adebayo, Gordon.

Subs not used: Rose, Cockerill-Mollett, Jules, Bates, Lavery.

Forest Green: Thomas, Bernard, M.Mills, Rawson (Kitching 45), Winchester, Collins (Stevens 68), Morton (Adams 77), Dawson, McGinley, McCoulsky, J.Mills.

Subs not used: Wollacott, Grubb, Allen, Mondal.

Joseph Masi

By Joseph Masi
Football MMPJ - @josephmasi_star

Football journalist for the Express & Star covering Walsall FC.

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