Walsall’s excellent start to the season continued yesterday, on what was a very warm and humid day at the Banks’s Stadium.
With 2200 Coventry fans making the short trip to their Midland neighbours, the atmosphere was always going to be special and with two good, in-form sides high on confidence, the game was also going to be special, and nobody in the stadium was disappointed with what was a superb advert for England’s third tier of football.
Walsall Go Joint Top
Dean Smith’s Walsall lined up slightly differently, a little more cautious against what is a very strong Coventry City, who will no doubt be up towards the right end of the table come May.
Bradshaw once again started on his own upfront, with Milan Lalkovic, Romaine Sawyers and Anthony Forde offering the support, with Sam Mantom and captain Adam Chambers in midfield.
It was a more settled defence, with a back four of Andy Taylor, Paul Downing, James O’Connor and Jason Demetriou, with Neil Etheridge keeping his number one spot in goal.
Dean Smith, with his growing reputation in Walsall as a bit of a ‘tinkerman’ once again got his formation and starting line-up changes spot on.
Both sides started brightly, with the Saddlers and Sky Blues both seeing plenty of the ball, but it was Walsall creating the better opportunities, displaying some excellent passing at times.
It was that passing display in the final third that eventually led to the opening goal just five minutes before the break as Milan Lalkovic’s ball cut through a good Coventry City backline onto Anthony Forde who found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat, which he did. A calm, cool finish by the Irishman, an important goal for a player whos position is well and truly under threat
Walsall deservedly led at the break by the one goal, just shading the half, as Coventry struggled to cope with the Saddlers style of play, with Jason Demetriou’s forward runs from the back again causing problems, as the Cypriot continues to grow into a highly valuable cog in Dean Smith’s work.
Walsall started the second half exactly how they finished the first, cutting through the Coventry team with a confident passing ability, it was going to be the only way Walsall would win, as any high ball was won by the strong Reda Johnson in the Coventry defence.
Walsall’s lead was doubled just seven minutes after the break as highly rated forward Tom Bradshaw once again added his name to a Saddlers scoresheet.
The Welshman has a knack for getting into the right spot at the right time and that was exactly the case with his latest goal as Lalkovic’s fierce effort rebounded to Bradshaw who volleyed it home past the helpless Lee Burge.
With Saddlers’ fans now feeling fairly confident of the three points, for Coventry, staring at a first defeat and the thought of being knocked off the top of the league seemed to galvanise the Sky Blues.
Coventry began to get on top as they searched for an instant reply and earned themselves a few freekicks, Lamieras’ hitting the wall before Adam Armstrong hit the bar with a fantastic curling effort.
The visitors were right back in it just four minutes after Walsall doubled their lead thanks to a fantastic strike by substitute Jacob Murphy who had come on earlier in the game for the injured James Maddison, his strike nestling fantastically into the corner.
Coventry’s tails were certainly up and got on top of a Walsall side now operating a litte more defensive, letting Tony Mowbray’s side move the ball around unchallenged up to half way for awhile.
Coventry’s domination didn’t last though, and the play once again evened out with Walsall perhaps making the better chances as Milan Lalkovic, Tom Bradshaw, Jordan Cook and Andy Taylor all created chances, before Keiron Morris almost made it three with a few minutes remaining as he strode forward unchallanged from halfway, but he poked his effort narrowly wide once he got into the Sky Blues’ box.
At the other end, young Portuguese man Ruben Lameiras had an effort at goal but it was straight at Neil Etheridge, who saved comfortably.
Although Coventry did try and push for that equaliser, that was about as much as they offered and Walsall ran out as deserved winners, seeing themselves go joint top of the league as Coventry’s first defeat saw them drop to third.
Milan Lalkovic claimed the ‘Man of the Match’ award for Walsall, and rightly so. His ball control and runs were a constant threat and it’s clear to see that Walsall’s route to goal this season will primarily be down the wings.
Next up for Dean Smith’s boys are Championship side Brighton in the Capital One Cup second round as Walsall look for a second upset, before making the trip North to a club on the slide, Blackpool, on the Bank Holiday weekend.
Meanwhile, next up for Coventry City is a home fixture against newly promoted Southend United as they look to get back to winning ways.