Express & Star

Analysis: Walsall running out of chances in play-off race

Walsall’s play-off pursuit suffered yet another dent as they were condemned to back-to-back defeats with a 3-1 loss against Notts County at Bescot.


The Saddlers remarkably still only trail the top seven by three points, after Crawley Town lost 3-2 against Colchester United, although they dropped to 11th as they were leapfrogged by Doncaster Rovers and Gillingham respectively.

Tuesday’s defeat at Doncaster was disappointing, but a wasteful Walsall were made to pay as Notts County scored from all three of their shots on target, while the Saddlers found the net just once from 21 attempts.

Donervon Daniels was recalled to the starting line-up for the first time since Good Friday, as Emmanuel Adegboyega dropped out of the squad altogether due to “tiredness”.

Jackson Smith missed his second game in quick succession, with Sadler revealing in his post-match press conference that the young goalkeeper has suffered concussion.

Mat Sadler’s men had lost just once at home in their last 12 outings before kick-off, but made the worst possible start as Macauley Langstaff delivered the breakthrough for Notts County inside the opening two minutes.

David Okagbue failed to clear a long ball into touch and was pickpocketed by Alassana Jatta down the left channel.

His cross evaded Taylor Allen’s trailing leg and Langstaff was ultimately left unmarked inside in the box to tuck a precise finish into right-hand bottom corner, which moved him three goals ahead of Wrexham’s Paul Mullin in the race for the golden boot with his 26th of the campaign.

Conceding early goals has been a trend that Walsall have managed to cut out during the second half of the campaign, but only Bradford City, Morecambe (both 15) and Swindon Town (13) teams have shipped more than their tally of 12 this term.

Walsall looked nervy for the opening 10 minutes and struggled to gain any control over proceedings as they continued to be wasteful in possession.

They eventually settled into the contest and enjoyed a bright period where they should have levelled the score.

Allen embarked on a mesmerising run forward to latch on to Liam Gordon’s pass before he slotted his finish wide and Josh Gordon also saw his low effort deflect off target.

But the most contentious moment came just minutes before Notts County’s second when Josh Gordon peeled away from the Magpies’ defence to flick Allen’s floated ball beyond the onrushing Luca Ashby-Hammond.

His celebrations were dashed by the offside flag, although replays showed he was roughly a yard onside.

While Walsall cannot hide behind decisions after the defeat, it did prove to be a key turning point during the first half.

That was one of a number of frustrating decisions by the officials, as Walsall totted up the yellow cards for dissent, including Brandon Comley, which would later prove fatal.

County’s second came against the run of play when Aaron Nemane skipped past challenges from Ryan Stirk and Liam Gordon, before sidestepping Allen’s lunging challenge and rifling a powerful strike into the roof of the net in the 28th minute.

That knocked the wind out of Walsall’s sails, but Sadler responded at the break with triple reinforcements as he introduced Ross Tierney, Douglas James-Taylor and Mo Faal.

It seemed any sign of a comeback was extinguished when Comley was shown a second booking for a foul on Dan Crowley. He became the sixth Walsall player to receive a red card this season – only Forest Green Rovers and Salford City (both nine) have amassed more.

But Mo Faal halved the deficit 22 minutes from time when Douglas James-Taylor cushioned Allen’s long pass into Liam Gordon’s path. The Guyana international delivered low for Faal to dispatch a clinical finish past the advancing Ashby-Hammond.

Notts County took less than 60 seconds to restore their two-goal cushion when Sam Austin’s shot was too hot to handle for Owen Evans as the ball looped into the far corner.

Walsall had chances in the second half but frustratingly failed to take them. James-Taylor saw his low effort cleared off the line, while Faal struck the woodwork twice.

They ultimately suffered a first home defeat in almost two months, but remain the play-off hunt, despite missing two golden opportunities to close the gap.

Nevertheless, optimism is fading after successive defeats, and it feels as if anything less than maximum points from the final three matches will see them fall short in their quest to finish in the top seven.