The Saddlers suffered only their second defeat of 2017 as they went down 4-1 to promotion chasing Bolton Wanderers.
The afternoon couldn’t have started much better for the visitors as leading scorer Erhun Oztumer fired home a sensational half-volley from 40 yards to open the scoring and send the travelling support wild. This was Oztumer’s 12th goal of the season, and the fact that there’s debate around whether it was his best, shows how impressive his performances have been.
Bolton, with their January recruit Adam le Fondre partnering target man Gary Madine up front, were always going to be dangerous going forward and the pressure told from a Wanderers corner as Madine outmuscled O’Connor and headed downwards into the Walsall net.
Set-pieces are always going to be a focal point for a Phil Parkinson side, and the Saddlers conceded their second goal after another Madine header from a corner was cleared off the line by Joe Edwards, however the resulting cross from Jay Spearing was diverted into his own net by O’Connor.
The shell shocked Saddlers conceded their third goal of the first half after a long ball from Alnwick found Madine whose chest down was rifled in by Liam Trotter from 25 yards. 3-1 down and that looked to be game over as the referee blew his whistle for half-time.
There was a 15 minute delay to the second half as one of the officials was taken ill.Walsall started the second half brightly, and a slip from Bolton ‘keeper Alnwick nearly gifted Bakayoko a goal, but the forward couldn’t find the net from a tight angle. The Saddlers continued to press, but with Wanderers sitting in Walsall didn’t create too many clear cut chances as the second half progressed. The best chance of the half fell to Florent Cuvelier whose goalbound effort was cleared off the line after good link up play from Oztumer and Edwards.
Bolton remained a threat from set-pieces and there were a number of unconvincing moments from Etheridge as he struggled to deal with the quality which Bolton delivered the ball into the box.
Jon Whitney made two changes on the 75 minute mark with Will Randall and Simeon Jackson replacing Bakayoko and Edwards.
With the game nearing a close, Bolton seized the initiative and Walsall struggled to create anything meaningful. On-loan Burnley striker Chris Long finished the game off in the 84th minute as he outpaced the Walsall defence and fired a thunderous strike past Etheridge to make it 4-1 to Bolton.
A deserved victory for Bolton, and they will be hoping that Whitney’s men can do them a favour on Tuesday and take points off promotion rivals Scunthorpe United in what is another tough game for the Saddlers.