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Analysis: Danny Johnson shows his worth as Walsall continue to climb

Danny Johnson showed his team-mates how to finish a chance – and win a game – with a last-gasp winner which sent the Walsall fans home deliriously happy.

Danny Johnson scores for Walsall
Danny Johnson scores for Walsall

Johnson scored his 10th league goal and 13th of the season altogether in the second minute of injury time and showed just why Walsall will find themselves wanting to make every effort to keep him in the January transfer window.

The goal may not have been a 25-yard screamer, but he executed perfection in his control, turn, shot and timing as the Saddlers finally got the winner their second-half pressure deserved.

Granted, they were playing against 10 men after the visitors’ Ludwig Francillette was sent off on 39 minutes, but at 1-1 that only made Crawley more determined to hold on to a point.

A mixture of spoiling tactics, dogged defending and a great display by goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe made them look like they might do it.

Despite throwing the kitchen sink at the visitors in the second half, it looked like the Saddlers were going to be denied and have to settle for a solitary point – which for everyone concerned would very much have felt like two points lost rather than one gained.

Instead, Johnson popped up with the winner and the record books will show Walsall have won five league home games in a row and are unbeaten in six in all competitions.

Much talk has already been aired about the on loan Mansfield marksman’s future and that remains to be seen, but the majority of people present on Saturday would hope it will be in the West Midlands.

Michael Flynn’s team can now take a well-earned break from league action and look forward to what should be an exciting FA Cup second-round game at home to Carlisle next Saturday – the Cumbrians having moved up to sixth after a 4-1 win at Salford after the goalless draw with the Saddlers last week.

Walsall themselves are on an upward spiral to match recent results – just four points off the play-offs after 19 games.

They are also showing every sign of turning the Poundland Bescot Stadium into a formidable place to come for away sides, while themselves fulfilling their bosses’ wishes of becoming more consistent on the road. But when Crawley took the lead on 11 minutes the warning bells were ringing slightly.

Ashley Nadesan pulled the ball back from the left and Dom Telford – who played under Flynn at Newport – scored from close range.

Was this where Walsall come unstuck after some great recent results?

Thankfully, the fans weren’t given much time to ponder that as three minutes later Hayden White, in the middle of a group of players in the box, got on the end of a Tom Knowles free-kick to turn the ball in for his second goal in recent weeks.

It signalled the start of a good period for Walsall in terms of possession and pressure and they began to get on top of their opponents, who themselves came into the game unbeaten in five games.

Isaac Hutchinson saw a volley from a Bennett cross well saved by Balcombe and Knowles shot over as Walsall looked to get in front for the first time in the game. On 39 minutes, Johnson looked to get free on goal and indeed would have been, but was impeded by Francillette, who had already been booked for hauling down Knowles, the referee this time pulling out a red card.

Crawley managed to reach half-time at 1-1, but rode their luck early in the second half as Walsall went looking for that second goal.

But it looked like Balcombe was going to produce one of those match-saving games that every goalkeeper dreams about.

He denied Jacob Maddox, Hutchinson and Knowles with fine saves in a performance that prompted Flynn afterwards to call him man of the match.

Add to that Liam Bennett shooting over and Liam Gordon hitting a post with an angled drive in the latter stages, plus Crawley going close with a Nadesan shot that flew just wide, and it was great entertainment and drama for the crowd of 6,201.

But it was the win they wanted and – to a fan, as the clock reached 92 minutes – they must have thought about having to settle for the draw and maintaining the unbeaten home run until Johnson remained calm where others were frantic and nonchalantly got them over the winning line with a clinical turn and finish.

The forward batted off questions over his future after the match, though said he was enjoying his football.

But his reputation at the Poundland Bescot Stadium is sky high and the ball may be in the club’s court to see what they can do to make his stay more permanent if a serious challenge for promotion is on the agenda.

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