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Walsall 4 Hartlepool 0 - Report

Four-midable Walsall kicked off a new era in blistering fashion at the Poundland Bescot Stadium with a display of exciting attacking football delivering a comfortable win against Hartlepool United.

Hat trick hero Danny Johnson celebrates his third..
Hat trick hero Danny Johnson celebrates his third..

Danny Johnson was one of seven debutants in the starting line-up and marked his Walsall bow with a clinical hat trick after a deflected Brandon Comley effort had got the Super Saddlers rolling.

With Head Coach Michael Flynn having made 15 signings so far this summer, this was first look at the rebuilding job he is determined to implement and initial impressions were extremely positive.

Hat trick hero Danny Johnson celebrates his third..

At times Hartlepool just couldn’t cope with wave upon wave of Walsall attacks, and in Johnson and Andy Williams the Saddlers boast a dangerous striking partnership with the ability to finish.

The performance as a whole was littered with impressive performances as Walsall moved into a new era under the ownership of the Trivela Group.

They will undoubtedly have enjoyed their first game at the helm just as over 5,000 Walsall fans did on League Two’s opening day.

Report

That figure of seven debutants in the Walsall starting line-up was surpassed by Hartlepool’s eight, the Pools’ manager Paul Hartley in the dugout for his first game on English soil after building up a wealth of experience North of the Border.

Keeper Owen Evans, Peter Clarke, Taylor Allen, Brandon Comley, Isaac Hutchinson, Andy Williams and Danny Johnson were the Walsall seven hoping to make it a magnificent opening day.

The eagerness of both teams to get off and running was shown by them being lined up fully a couple of minutes before referee Lee Swabey was able to get the game underway, but the first blow of his whistle was the signal for an expectant roar from the Walsall faithful.

Both sides were trying to feel their way into the game amid a lively atmosphere and Walsall’s first attack of note saw Allen’s cross from the left blocked.

Brandon Comley celebrates his goal

An audacious Cruyff turn from Hartlepool keeper Ben Killip as Andy Williams honed in was enjoyed by the travelling support if perhaps not so much the visiting coaching staff!

It was in the 13th minute that the first major chance of the game arrived courtesy of a fine move from the Saddlers.

Hayden White’s clever low pullback from the right drew a couple of dummies allowing Johnson to play in Allen whose powerful low drive drew an instinctive save from Killip.

Allen was making plenty of hay down the Walsall left and went past his defender minutes later before sending in another cross which was blocked.

It was turning into a decent spell of promising Walsall pressure and it got its rewards with 21 minutes on the clock.

A Hutchinson centre was half cleared to Comley on the edge of the box who connected well with his strike which took a deflection before finding its way into the net.

Walsall continued to drive forward after the breakthrough with Allen again causing havoc down the left, and after he was fouled Hutchinson drove a free kick not far over the crossbar.

Hartlepool did respond with a low shot from Mohamed Niang which was easy for Evans and minutes later the buoyant Saddlers extended their lead.

Danny Johnson celebrates his goal for the Saddlers

Hutchinson was making a hugely impressive start to his Walsall career in his attacking midfielder role and made rapid strides through the middle before finding Johnson down the left.

Johnson connected superbly with his first-time effort but Killip was able to parry, only for the striker to follow up with an equally emphatic finish to double Walsall’s advantage.

It was nothing more than they deserved for a spell of fantastic attacking play which had taken the game by the scruff of the neck.

Which is exactly what Pools forward Josh Umerah then appeared to do in a challenge with Clarke shortly afterwards but, as the Walsall defender lay prone on the floor, the referee waved play on.

Umerah advanced and tried his luck with a decent low effort which flashed wide of Evans’ right-hand post.

Williams was next to threaten for Walsall with a shot from distance which was comfortable for Killip and then, with half time approaching, Allen cut inside and hit a right foot shot narrowly off target.

Half time arrived shortly afterwards to bring to an end a thoroughly impressive first 45 minutes of the season for the Saddlers, full of energy, purpose and attacking endeavour.

Walsall were straight back on the attack after half time with a clever short corner routine which eventually led to the ball breaking for Liam Kinsella to shoot over from just outside the box.

Another intricate set piece saw Hutchinson dink a free kick into the left- hand channel which Allen diverted into the box only for a Hartlepool defender to clear.

A chance for Taylor Allen..

The balance of power hadn’t shifted in any way from the first half and so it was that Walsall added a clinical third goal just before the hour mark.

Kinsella won the ball in midfield and advanced before finding Hutchinson down the left and his cross was expertly powered home first-time by Johnson.

Walsall were now rampant, and Hutchinson almost made it four minutes later only to be denied from close range by Killip’s reflexes.

Kinsella needed treatment for what appeared a blow to his eye before returning to the action sporting a headband before Flynn made a double change midway through the half, Liam Bennett and Jack Earing replacing Daniels and Comley.

The change saw White move inside to become one of the centre backs with Bennett moving into his position as right wing back.

Still Walsall carried on sweeping forward, Allen sending over another cross which was met at the near post by Williams who was just unable to get his shot on target.

But it wasn’t long until Johnson completed his hat trick, capitalising on a superb header across goal from Manny Monthe to make no mistake from close range.

Donervon Daniels

The damage done, that was to be Johnson’s last action of the afternoon as he was immediately replaced to a standing ovation, and substitute Douglas James-Taylor nearly added to the quartet barely seconds after coming off the bench.

James-Taylor pounced in the penalty area to get a shot in which Killip parried and couldn’t quite get to the rebound as Walsall went in search of a fifth.

Taking advantage of the new five substitute rule, Flynn was then able to bring in a couple more debutants with ten minutes remaining, 17-year-old youth product Ronan Maher coming on for the impressive Hutchinson and Timmy Abraham becoming another debutant in replacing Williams.

It was only now that Walsall’s performance became slightly less emphatic as Hartlepool pushed for a consolation, but Evans was well placed to block both Jake Hastie’s initial effort and follow-up with five minutes remaining.

Umerah then shot narrowly wide for the visitors and Allen sliced his attempted effort for Walsall at the other end as the game moved into six minutes of added time.

Abraham was so close to marking his debut with a goal but was denied by Killip after showing his pace to latch onto James-Taylor’s superb through ball.

There was to be no further chances but the Saddlers faithful, who had earlier enjoyed the opportunity to sing about being top of the league, greeted the final whistle with considerable delight after enjoying a scintillating display from their team.

Make no mistake, this was a hugely impressive start.

Teams

Walsall (3-4-1-2): Evans; Daniels (Bennett 68), P. Clarke, Monthe; White, Kinsella, Comley (Earing 68), Allen; Hutchinson (Maher 80); Williams (Abraham 80), Johnson (James-Taylor 74).

Subs not used: Przybek, F. Clarke.

Goals: Comley (21) Johnson (26, 58, 73)

Hartlepool (4-3-3): Killip, Tumility (Sterry 73), Murray, Lacey, Ferguson; Featherstone, Niang, Hastie; Taylor (Hamilton 55), Cooke; Umerah.

Subs not used: Letheren (gk), Shelton, Paterson, Crawford.

Attendance: 5,754 (572 Hartlepool fans)

Referee: Lee Swabey

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