County were cruelly denied a third league win of the season on Saturday afternoon, as a late header from Andy Williams saw Walsall snatch a point at Edgeley Park.
County had dominated the game up until that point, deservedly taking the lead in the first-half through Paddy Madden’s header, but a failure to kill the game off after the break ultimately came back to cost Dave Challinor’s side.
With injuries racking up over the last few weeks it was a somewhat depleted squad that took to the field – Vit Jaros returned from international duty to start in goal, behind a back four of Mark Kitching, Ryan Johnson, Fraser Horsfall and makeshift right-back Will Collar.
Callum Camps returned from injury to start in midfield alongside Ryan Croasdale, whilst there was a first league start of the season for Summer signing Connor Evans, who would go on to be named as the sponsors’ Man of the Match. He and Ollie Crankshaw were selected on the flanks, with Kyle Wootton partnering Paddy Madden up top.
With both sides coming into the game low on confidence after slow starts to the season, it was County making the early running, and they felt they should have been awarded a penalty after 14 minutes, Connor Evans shot appearing to strike the arm of a Walsall man but the referee waved play on, much to Dave Challinor’s frustration.
Ryan Johnson came close to grabbing his first goal of the season after 20 minutes, rising high to meet Ollie Crankshaw’s corner but seeing his header land onto the roof of the net.
Moments later though County finally had the breakthrough they craved, Ollie Crankshaw cutting in from the left flank and crossing for the unmarked Madden, who thundered a header home off the underside of the crossbar – the linesman on the far side confirming that the ball had bounced over the line.
Having rarely threatened in the opening half-hour, a slip at the back by Ryan Johnson allowed Walsall top scorer Daniel Johnson a clear run at goal, but Fraser Horsfall got back superbly to block the shot and snuff out the danger.
Horsfall so nearly made a telling contribution in the opposite penalty area moments later, meeting Mark Kitching’s corner but flashing a header inches wide at the back post.
Half-time: County 1-0 Walsall (Madden, 27′)
Walsall made a triple change at the break in a bid to change the tide but it continued to be County playing on the front foot, Evans showing quick feet to skip to the byline before crossing towards Wootton, who was inches away from nodding it home.
A real goalmouth scramble saw both Paddy Madden and Will Collar have shots blocked from point-blank range following Callum Camps cut-back, Walsall’s goal leading a charmed life as the pressure mounted.
On 62 minutes, Tom Knowles curled one tamely into the arms of Vit Jaros, the visitors first effort on target in the game and one celebrated by the home supporters.
The Hatters had two glorious opportunities to double the lead inside a couple of minutes, Paddy Madden acrobatically hooking an effort over the bar after Ryan Johnson’s shot was blocked, before a lovely, flowing move down the right-hand side led to Evans playing in the rampaging right-back Will Collar, who shot over the bar. It would have been one of the goals of the season had it found the back of the net, but it left Walsall still in with a chance of getting something from the game.
And so it proved to be late on, as just two minutes from time a corner from the left-hand side found the near-post run of substitute Williams, who glanced a header across goal and in at the far post to claim an unlikely point for the Saddlers.
Full-time: County 1-1 Walsall (Madden, 27′; Williams, 88′)
Starting XI: Jaros; Collar; Horsfall; Johnson; Kitching; Croasdale; Camps; Evans (Jennings, 88′); Crankshaw (Hippolyte, 56′); Wootton; Madden
Attendance: 8,805 (1,252 away fans)
Photographer: Mike Petch