Walsall Ladies won their fifth consecutive game last Sunday, defeating Stafford Town in a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
The Saddlers went into the game on the back of a 2-6 away win against Leek Town Ladies to put themselves a few points behind the leaders at the top of the table. Jason Barrowclough’s team were in high spirits going into the game but also cautious of the threat that the visitors carried with a few points separating the two prior to kick off.
A strong early start was much needed and the Saddlers showed early signs of promise as Kelly Fowell drove at the Stafford Town defence but her low cross was gathered by the goalkeeper. Fowell, who is the Saddlers’ top goal scorer this season so far was a handful for the Stafford defence early on, as has been the case for large parts of the season and it was only going to be her who broke the deadlock as in the opening 10 minutes she finished into the top corner to give the Ladies an early lead, much to the delight of her teammates.
The Saddlers were then put under pressure as it was now Stafford Town who started to put their foot on proceedings in an attempt to level the scores. A number of attacks from the visitors started to test the Saddlers backline, with a number of stray passes stopping them from capitalising on good fortune. They did however manage to find a way through via a corner from the left which was headed in at close range to equalise midway through the first half.
The Saddlers didn’t let this goal dampen their confidence as they showed great character and determination, captain Sophie Ball looking to provide a dangerous cross into the box with the resulting shot flying over the bar. Minutes later, Ball broke away into space and looked to be through on goal, but a last-ditch challenge from a Stafford defender denied her a shooting opportunity.
For the remainder of the first half, it became a tight and cagey affair with limited chances at either end as the teams went into the break on level terms.
The second half was tipped to have a lot more in store following the first half action and it didn’t disappoint as in the opening 5 minutes the Saddlers regained their lead. Fowell was played through on goal with a perfectly weighted pass that kept her onside and the striker kept her composure to round the goalkeeper and slot home for her second goal of the game.
Tensions started to rise after this goal as the Stafford Town manager was sent off for protesting to the referee, leading to a bit of extra edge in proceedings but the Saddlers didn’t let it affect them as it was they who scored the next goal of the game. Bethany James squeezed the ball into the near post following a quick and incisive counter-attack to give the Ladies a two-goal cushion which inevitably proved to be a crucial moment in the game with 25 minutes left to go.
Stafford Town were a rejuvenated side after James’ strike and started to pile the pressure on once more but stand-in goalkeeper Olivia Hayward denied them a route back into the game with a fine double-save in the 73rd minute.
Just two minutes after this, the visitors had their route back into the game. An innocuous challenge in the box led to the referee having no option but to award Stafford Town a penalty and the resulting spot kick was dispatched. Hayward managed to get a hand to the effort but could not keep it out and the Saddlers were now heading for a tense 15 minutes.
Despite the late drama in the game, the Saddlers managed to keep the visitors out and hold on until the final whistle.
That was the last of the action as the Saddlers secured a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Stafford Town to extend their winning run to five matches.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Merrett and Kevin Grice