Walsall 2-1 Stockport County

The Hatters’ first League Two away-assignment of the new campaign saw them still looking for their first points, after being edged out by the odd goal in three at Walsall.

Goals midway through the first half and 11 minutes from the end of the 90 secured victory for the hosts, with County reducing the arrears deep into added time through substitute Ryan Rydel.

Manager Dave Challinor took charge of his 100th match, as County took to the field on a cloudy West Midlands afternoon with glimpses of sunshine – and showing three changes from the starting line-up for the season’s opener against Gillingham at Edgeley Park seven days earlier.

Cody Johnson and Ethan Pye, both of whom were handed their Football League debuts, having put in performances that belied their years in the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday during midweek – as well as County’s goal-scorer at Hillsborough and club captain, Paddy Madden – comprised the trio brought in, replacing Callum Camps, Tanto Olaofe and Rydel.

The ‘Saddlers’, like County, were managed by a former Hatter in – appropriately enough, so far as they were concerned – Mat Sadler. And included among their starters was another, rather more recent, one – namely, Chris Hussey, who made over 30 appearances for County during 2022/23, and who wore for his new club the same number (23) as he had at EP.

County, with the contest’s first attack of note and just over a minute played, had the ball in the net as Louie Barry fired home into the bottom-right corner – only to see the effort flagged offside.

Four minutes later, a Madden shot from the edge of the box took a deflection before ending up in the arms of home goalkeeper, Owen Evans. And just after the quarter-hour mark, Nick Powell, Ibou Touray, Madden and Antoni Sarcevic all went close with attempts from the right that the hosts, in each case, turned beyond the near post, as County continued to enjoy a bright start.

It was, then, against the run of play when Walsall took the lead shortly following the half’s mid-point – as Freddie Draper dispossessed Pye, before squaring from the right for Danny Johnson to slot past Ben Hinchliffe.

Johnson almost doubled his and the Saddlers’ tallies eight minutes later, after Isaac Hutchinson advanced on goal – and, in the course of a subsequent scramble in the six-yard box, the ball fell to the scorer who poked a shot just shy of the left upright.

The hosts continued to press, with Oisin McEntee heading beyond the right post from a corner – before County rallied ahead of the break, as Touray cut in from the left to force Evans into a save in front of the near upright, and Barry, in added time, fired narrowly over the crossbar.

HALF-TIME: Walsall 1 (Johnson, 24), County 0. 

The Hatters introduced Will Collar upon the re-start – and he was almost among the goals within a couple of minutes, after good work by Barry and Madden, but fired into the left side-netting. Then, 10 minutes later, a goalmouth scramble saw both Powell and Collar thwarted, as skipper Donervan Daniels blocked before Evans parried the ball behind.

Powell went close again on the hour, having been teed up by Madden, as he unleashed a low shot that fizzed just wide of the right post. And a dozen minutes later, Hutchinson fired past the left stick at the other end.

With 15 minutes remaining, County had the ball in the net – courtesy of a Madden volley – for a second time. But, as in the first instance during the game’s opening stages, a flag ruled out a goal – on this occasion because Kyle Knoyle’s cross from the right that led to the strike had gone out of play before Barry recycled it from beyond the far post for the captain.

Shortly afterwards, the hosts doubled their advantage, as substitute Aramide Oteh fired home with a low shot after being played in by McEntee.

The award of a whopping, but not now unusual, 10 minutes added on did at least produce a consolation goal for County – as Rydel connected with Madden’s chip to head in from close range.

FULL-TIME: Walsall 2 (Johnson, 24; Oteh, 79), County 1 (Rydel, 90 +7). 

Team (3-4-3): Hinchliffe; Knoyle, Horsfall, Pye; Southam-Hales (Olaofe, 78), Johnson, Sarcevic (Collar, 46), Touray; Powell (Rydel, 86), Madden (Capt.), Barry.

Unused Subs: Smith, Wright, Byrne, Richardson.

Booked: Johnson, Horsfall, Barry, Southam-Hales, Olaofe.

Attendance: 6,008 (935 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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