Walsall 0-1 Southend United
Finally, at the twelfth attempt, Mark Moseley’s Shrimpers broke their duck and recorded a fine win, in the West Midlands, courtesy of super-sub, Emile Acquah’s late stunner.
Having suffered Papa John’s EFL Trophy humiliation in an, albeit, ‘dead rubber’ midweek Colchester derby, the Blues, with ‘big hitters’ John White, Timothee Dieng and Jason Demetriou pulling the strings, the bottom-placed side bounced back in style.
And, United should have been ahead in the first minute when keeper, Mark Oxley’s long clearance found Brandon Goodship in behind the Saddlers’ defence, but despite having two clear attempts, Liam Roberts twice saved.
Walsall immediately hit back and one-time Shrimpers’ loanee, Caolan Lavery beat Tom Clifford too easily, only for Oxley to stand up and make a fine block.
Oxley was soon in action, again, and smartly held on to Wes McDonald’s skimmer, as Southend failed to clear Rory Holden’s flag-kick.
But, an upbeat Southend called the shots and Dieng was twice denied by Roberts, before Arsenal loanee, James Olayinka shot narrowly wide.
Even Oxley – shortly before the break – tested Roberts with a gargantuan clearance which the Saddlers’ gloveman struggled to foil.
A rain and wind spoilt second period, finally came alive eight minutes from time, when Tom Clifford’s foul, on Cameron Norman, along the bye-line, saw Elijah Adebayo given the chance to grab a potentially undeserved Saddlers’ clincher.
But, the big striker sent Oxley the wrong way and blasted his spot-kick, via the top of the crossbar, into the deserted Home Serve stand.
Southend then rallied. Two minutes from time, the talented Arsenal loanee, James Olayinka’s run opened up a static Walsall defence. His threaded pass was helped on by Ashley Nathaniel-George, which then found Acquah and the hitman’s effort beat Roberts, landing his shot in the far corner.
The Shrimpers kept their nerve and held out, in the remaining four frantic minutes’ stoppage time – aided by Alfie Bates’s second yellow card following a crude foul on Shrimpers’ sub, Kazaiah Sterling – to leave a happy, but grounded Moseley saying: “It’s a win, three points and a clean sheet. But, we’ve got two difficult games coming up.
He added: “It’s a tough place to come to and get a result. For once, we got the rub of the green. But, we had several good chances in the first period, with Brandon Goodship twice denied, and a couple of sighters after the break.”
Moseley admitted: “We’ve been naïve at times, this season, but with the likes of John White, Jason Demetriou and Timothee Dieng, we’ve got more experience back in the team. And, even though Emile Acquah is technically a winger, he took his goal like a striker. We showed the right characteristics today and I’m very proud of my players.”
Speaking to the official Walsall website, opposing boss, Darryl Clarke conceded: “It was a rubbish performance. We were lethargic, in the first half, when we wanted to get on the front foot. We didn’t do enough to win the game today.”
Clarke blasted: “I’m not using tiredness as an excuse – you’re best keeping your mouth shut, about that. There’s the same number of games for everyone. I represent what my players are about. We can’t just perform and switch it on like a tap”.
Still smarting, Clarke concluded: “Today’s performance – us missing a penalty and them scoring afterwards – sums up the fact that we’ve been drawing too many games this season.”
Walsall: Liam Roberts, Cameron Norman, Dan Scarr (Capt), Zak Jules, Callum Cockerill-Mollett (Mat Sadler 69′), Wes McDonald, Alfie Bates , Liam Kinsella (Emmanuel Osadebe 74′), Rory Holden, Elijah Adebayo, Caolan Lavey (Jack Scrimshaw 64′). Subs not used: Jack Rose, Stuart Sinclair, Danny Guthrie, Hayden White
Southend United: Mark Oxley, Stuart Hobson, Timothee Dieng, John White (Emilie Acquah 65′), Harry Lennon, Tom Clifford (Harry Phillips 90′), Jason Demetriou, Terrell Egbri (Kazaiah Sterling 89′), James Olayinka, Ashley Nathaniel-George, Brandon Goodship. Subs not used: Harry Seaden (GK), Matt Rush.
Referee: Craig Hicks
Assistants: Chris Isherwood and Ollie Williams
Fourth Official: Christopher Husband