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Walsall 0 Newport 0 - Report and pictures

By Matt Maher | Walsall FC | Published:

Turning around Walsall's fortunes was never going to be an overnight task and Darrell Clarke can at least take encouragement his methods are bearing fruit in one area of the pitch.

The first four league matches of the 41-year-old's Banks's reign have delivered two clean sheets and seen the Saddlers defence breached only twice, one of those a penalty.

Less impressive has been the other end of the field, where his team have scored only twice themselves.

Clarke remains confident the goals will come and the best teams are generally built from the back.

Yet the Saddlers didn't look any closer to solving their problems in the final third during last night's rather uninspiring 0-0 draw against Newport, where chances proved at a premium for both teams.

James Hardy went closest to scoring for the Saddlers having carved out the opportunity himself, while Dan Scarr also headed over when well placed. And that was about it.

The consolation was Newport carved out even fewer openings on a night when home keeper Liam Roberts was largely a spectator.

Neither can a point against last season’s losing play-off finalists - currently unbeaten since March - can hardly be classed as a poor result, for a Walsall team that remains a work in progress.

Yet perhaps more than any other match so far, this one left no doubt where their biggest strengths and weaknesses currently lie.

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Changes have been a feature of the Saddlers in the early stages of Clarke's reign and there were three changes from the team which lost 1-0 at Crewe on Saturday.

That included returns to the starting line-up for Elijah Adebayo and Mat Sadler, while James Hardy was handed a first League Two start for the club.

Josh Gordon, Jack Kiersey and Zak Jules were the men to make way, all three dropping to the bench.

Newport fielded former Kidderminster striker Jamille Matt alongside the similarly towering Tristan Abrahams up front and the visitors made no secret of their contentment to knock the ball long right from the first whistle.

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But the first real chance fell to the Saddlers, Adebayo chesting down a Cameron Norman free-kick into the path of Lavery but the former Sheffield United striker, with his back to goal and under pressure, was unable to seriously test Tom King in the Newport goal.

Goalmouth action was at a premium but a slow burning match was almost sparked to life when Adebayo charged down a King clearance after the visiting keeper took a little too much time to clear, the ball rebounding out toward the corner flag.

Hardy then almost brought the house down with what would have been a superb solo strike. The playmaker beat two opponents to make space on the edge of the box but sent his shot the wrong side of King's post.

Newport fashioned only one opening in the first 45 minutes, Matt sending a low shot straight at Walsall keeper Liam Roberts after latching on to a smart through ball from Josh Sheehan.

Otherwise the Saddlers defence coped admirably with anything thrown at them, Dan Scarr particularly impressive when dealing with the aerial threat posed by Abrahams and Matt.

It was the former Stourbridge centre-back who would have the best chance of the match to that point early in the second half. But having rose to meet a Norman corner, he could only direct the header over the bar.

Such opportunities remained rare as the teams continued to cancel each other out, though it was the Saddlers who remained marginally the more threatening. Newport keeper King was alert to one moment of danger when he rushed off his line to dive and save at the feet of Kinsella after a neat passing move had seen the midfielder race into the box.

Clarke made his first chance just after the hour mark, Josh Gordon replacing Lavery off the bench.

Abrahams then wasted a rare opening for the visitors when he blazed over from the edge of the box when the Saddlers, for once, failed to clear their lines from a free-kick.

As the game entered the final 20 minutes, so the home boss became more vocal, urging his team on from technical area, at one point beating his fist against the cool box stationed behind him when a decision went against his team.

Stuart Sinclair eventually raised the volume levels in the stands when he found space and whipped in a low cross but no team-mate was there to meet it.

Instead it was the visitors who nearly netted when a long throw was flicked on and Matt sent a header just over the bar.

Walsall (3-5-2): Roberts, Clarke, Scarr, Sadler, Norman, Kinsella, Sinclair, Hardy (Kiersey 85), Pring, Adebayo, Lavery (Gordon 61) Subs not used: Cockerill-Mollett, McDonald, Liddle, Jules, Rose (gk).

Newport (4-3-1-2): King, McNamara, Howkins, O'Brien, Hughes, Wilmott, Sheehan, Labadie (Maloney HT), Amond, Matt, Abrahams Subs not used: Leadbitter, Nurse, Whiteley, Collins, Ekpiteta, Townsend (gk).

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher
@mjmarr_star

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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