Walsall 1-1 Shrewsbury Seven Things: defences on top

Payne’s pen levels for Salop – bbc.co.uk

In a cagey afternoon of good team defending, Walsall held league leaders Shrewsbury Town to a 1-1 draw, as Stefan Payne’s first half penalty cancelled out Daniel Agyei’s opener. Here’s seven talking points from the match.

Agyei’s brawn

Walsall were the more prominent side early on, often attempting early balls down the left channel for Daniel Agyei to chase and force right-back James Bolton back. That was how they scored the opening goal, when the striker unleashed a dipping effort from 20-yards out, which deceived Craig McGillivray on 14 minutes.

Oztumer restricted

The main criticism of Walsall would be that, while they had Shrewsbury penned back into their defensive third, they did not ally the athleticism of their front men with much craft with the ball or movement off it. Erhun Oztumer is normally capable of some magic but he struggled to cope with the physical side of the game, wing-backs Nicky Devlin and Luke Leahy stayed back and midfielder Kieron Morris performed a circumspect role.

Stefan and Shrewsbury’s spell

It is typical of Shrewsbury’s season that they scored from their first meaningful attack. Payne’s close-range header was allegedly handled by Jon Guthrie and while the referee declined to dismiss the centre-back, his opposing striker netted the resultant 20th minute penalty. Shrewsbury briefly grew in confidence and Payne rounded the goalkeeper on 34 minutes, but the excellent Kory Roberts saved the day by clearing his effort off the line. Walsall were again bailed out a minute later by the offside flag, which ruled out Payne’s firm volley.

Solid Salop

Like they had started it, Walsall ended the first half with a period of pressure but were again kept at bay by the solid Salop. Wide forward Louis Dodds, quiet in an attacking sense, epitomized their discipline by producing a fine block in the box to stop Joe Edwards driving the ball at goal. The lack of care in possession from both teams – and a reluctance to grab the middle third with two hands – created a second half in which only the centre-backs truly stood out.

Second half chances

Perversely, it was almost a credit to Shrewsbury that, given how subdued they had looked for a combined 87 minutes, Payne still had three clear cut chances in the whole 90. His third came in the second half when Alex Rodman crossed to the back-post, but the powerful striker fluffed his lines, his blushes spared by the offside flag. Walsall’s best opening after the break came when Morris crossed for substitute Tyler Roberts, who tried to head the ball back across goal but McGillivray, against his old club, was equal to the effort.

Shrewsbury may need a Plan B

Jon Nolan has been Salop’s most creative player this season, but perhaps when he’s not on his game, they need more craft in central areas. Abu Ogogo and Ben Godfrey have defensive qualities, but Paul Hurst might not need to deploy a double-pivot against future opposition, who like Walsall, will be tactically respectful.

Progress for Walsall?

The main criticism levelled at Jon Whitney is that he doesn’t learn quickly enough: he had perhaps shown tactical naivety in the early stages of his Walsall career, especially in preparation for big games. Here, he created a system that nullified Nolan and stopped them building any forward momentum. Although the Saddlers’ use of the ball can improve, fans can take heart from the organization shown.