Express & Star

Analysis: Walsall sideshow was fun - now it’s time for the main event

Walsall boss Michael Flynn was philosophical about getting knocked out of the FA Cup against Leicester in a game where he felt his players were slightly unlucky.


While he was proud of the players and pleased to see the stadium full for the owners, he felt Walsall could have taken one or two of the few chances that came their way against a Premier League side who dominated in terms of possession and shots.

He was also quick to point out that it was ‘about the league’ and that the FA Cup was a nice luxury. And quick to return to talk of that league and strengthening the squad for the long run in which sees Walsall still to play 22 games in the campaign before May 8.

Flynn was once more asked about Danny Johnson after the game, a man renowned for scoring goals that win games and one who scored 15 for Walsall in his loan spell from Mansfield.

He said the Mansfield chairman was putting an extortionate price on his head that no club would pay but said he ‘would have to’ bring a few players in before the end of the transfer window to cope with the Saturday-Tuesday schedule that the Saddlers face.

Saturday was a big occasion for the club, with the game shown on the BBC, Benjamin Boycott and other representatives from owners Trivela jetting in for it, and a sell out crowd at the Bescot Stadium who could sense a possible Cup upset in the offing.

But there was to be no repeat of the historic win of 1978 when Alun Evans – once the subject of Britain’s richest transfer fee for a teenager – scored the winner to book Walsall a fifth round tie at Arsenal.

To put things in perspective, the fee when Evans set that record in 1968, joining Liverpool from Wolves was £100,000. When Leicester substitute Kelechi Iheanacho joined Leicester from Manchester City in 2017 it was for a reportedly £25m fee.

The Foxes could also afford to put new capture Victor Kristiansen on the bench – the Dane joining from FC Copenhagen in the week.

But it wasn’t a case of men against boys, far from it. The goal that won it from Iheanacho took a wicked deflection off Walsall midfielder Brandon Comley and as Flynn said, Saddlers had a few chances that with a bit more composure could have gone in.

Leicester deserved to win the game, though. Before Iheanacho’s winner – amazingly his 17th goal in 23 FA Cup appearances – they had missed a penalty two minutes after half-time when Isaac Hutchinson fouled Patson Daka in the box ,though there didn’t seem much contact. Youri Tielemans stepped up and his shot beat Owen Evans in the Walsall goal but not the post.

Daka had been very lively in the first half, producing four shots and a header of varying quality, none of which went in, but Leicester did look increasingly dangerous as the half wore on.

Walsall had started like a steam train, with Robbie Willmott, a recent capture from Newport putting in two early crosses. He seemed like he was keen to repeat his and his manager’s win over Leicester when they were both at Newport in 2019.

Their first corner almost produced the early goal they were seeking, with the ball coming out to Tom Knowles who shot low and hard, Daniel Iversen just saving but not holding it, the ball going out off the oncoming Andy Williams.

If the first half was devoid of clear cut chances, rather littered by pot-shots and little quality in front of goal, the second half started with the penalty before one of Walsall’s best chances came immediately after on 47 minutes, Willmott again getting a cross in which Williams could only volley over.

Evans put on a great display in the spotlight, producing a great double save from Tielemans and Daka to keep Walsall in the game and later blocking a shot from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall

But he could do little about the winner on 67 minutes when Iheanacho’s shot from just outside the box took a big deflection off Comley and looped over the Welshman into the net.

Late on, Walsall went close twice as they became increasingly desperate.

Three minutes from time a corner came out to substitute Ronan Maher, who put the ball into the box and Connor Wilkinson’s flick on almost beat Iversen but he grabbed it at the second attempt.

Then in injury-time, Wilkinson’s free-kick went just wide before the referee almost immediately blew for full-time.

As sore as Walsall will be in going out of the FA Cup, they will be keen to put it behind them quickly and concentrate on the away games at Salford tomorrow and Northampton on Saturday. Whether they will face those tasks with a reinforced squad remains to be seen in the next 48 hours.