Port Vale suffered their first defeat of the month as they fell victim to two Walsall comebacks in a frustrating affair at the Banks’s Stadium.
The opening 10 minutes of the encounter saw both teams look to flex their attacking muscles but neither were able to forge an effort on goal, with Nathan Smith working hard to contain the Saddlers’ powerful forward Elijah Adebayo.
Walsall’s danger man nearly proved exactly why he is just that just past the 10 minute mark, as Wes McDonald showed some great skill down the left before pulling the ball back to Adebayo, whose effort was denied by the crossbar.
The hosts displayed their attacking prowess as the game entered the 20th minute, but the Vale back line was holding firm under the pressure.
Alex Hurst had the Vale’s first attempt of the game, using skilful footwork to beat his man and find some space 25-yards from the goal, but his shot under pressure failed to hit the target.
Scott Brown’s woodwork was struck for a second time minutes later as a low Adebayo cross was sliced clear by Zak Mills and the ball looped over everyone and hit the inside of the far post before it was pounced on by Brown.
In the 24th minute Luke Joyce took on a speculative effort as Vale looked to break the deadlock, a Tom Conlon delivery from a set-piece saw the ball fall to Joyce outside the box where he chested it down before volleying wide of the mark.
Vale went close again soon after as Hurst broke down the left flank and delivered a great cross into the danger area where Devante Rodney rose highest to meet it with his head from close range but couldn’t keep his effort down.
The Saddlers again went close as the game reached the half-hour mark, McDonald cut inside and dropped Nathan Smith with a fake shot but the skipper, Leon Legge, was there to throw his body on the line and block the powerful shot.
Conlon’s set-piece delivery was causing problems for the Walsall defence, swinging a ball towards Legge at the back post who headed back across the face of goal where Scott Burgess went agonisingly to poking the ball home.
Vale maintained their pressure, with David Fitzpatrick linking up play well with teammates to find Rodney who drove forward and let fly from range, earning a corner from his deflected shot.
Vale’s pressure finally paid off in the 37th minute, as Rodney brilliantly flicked a header on towards Tom Pope who brought it down, put the ball onto his right foot before cutting onto his left, sending the last Walsall defender and slotting the ball across goal into the bottom right corner with a delicate left-footed finish.
After the goal, Vale remained on top, with Mills flying in at the back post as he tried to latch onto a dangerous cross but was inches from being able to jab the ball into Jack Rose’s net.
Just before the break Vale doubled the lead in style, Tom Conlon stood over a free-kick in that spot where he has proven so dangerous this season and emulated his success from Exeter City by curling a stunning free-kick into the top-right corner, leaving Rose with no chance of stopping it.
It could have been three at the interval as Conlon continued to wreak havoc with his set-piece delivery, again finding Legge at the back-post, who headed back across goal where Conlon picked up the loose ball and curled it back to the Captain who headed just past Rose’s right-hand post.
The second-half couldn’t have started any worse for the Valiants with the hosts pulling a goal back in the 52nd minute when Jake Scrimshaw was played through on goal, before he beat Brown to the ball and pulled a goal back for the Saddlers.
Walsall were level four minutes later when a corner for the hosts was flicked on and met by Dan Scarr at the back post, who tucked the ball home from six-yards.
Vale were battling to regain their lead, the ball pinballing around the Saddlers’ box with David Amoo, Rodney, Conlon and Burgess all looking to get a shot away with each attempt being blocked before the ball was cleared.
The hosts began to command the game, sending numerous balls into the Vale box and trying to force an opening for them to take the lead for the first time in the game, but the Valiants were holding firm and keeping the rejuvenated Walsall side, which saw four changes made at the break, at bay.
The Saddlers’ attack was relentless, but Vale kept throwing their bodies on the line to stop the attempts on goal and with 15 minutes of the game remaining broke away on the counter attack, with the ball being worked to Vale’s first sub of the game, David Amoo, who sprinted down the right before cutting back and forth to find an inch of space where he squeezed the ball across the face of goal and Rodney arrived to restore the Vale lead.
John Askey’s side kept their high-press up following the goal and came close to doubling their advantage as Burgess flicked the ball to the back post in a chaotic Walsall box before the attack fizzled out.
The lead was short-lived however, as Scrimshaw got his second of the game, thundering the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle to bring his side level once again just four minutes after conceding.
Walsall found themselves in front for the first time, just one minute after drawing level, Scarr getting his second as he headed home at the back post from a corner.
Theo Robinson nearly made an instant impact off the bench, bringing the ball down in the box and looking to get a shot away but it was blocked out for a corner.
Mills had a golden opportunity to equalise two minutes from time, when Hurst hit a sublime pass over the top which was brought down by the right-back who lashed his close range volley high and wide of the mark.
Hurst was next to go close for the Valiants, working some space just inside the area but his low, hard driven shot was saved comfortably by Rose in the Walsall net, ensuring all three points for his side.
Port Vale: Brown, Clark, Legge, Smith (86’ Crookes), Fitzpatrick, Joyce (86’ Robinson), Burgess, Conlon, Rodney, Hurst, Pope (Amoo 61’).
Unused Subs: Visser, Brisley, Oyeleke, Whitehead.
Walsall: Rose, Norman (45’ Lavery), White, Scarr, Clarke, Kinsella, Gordon (45’ Guthrie), Bates (45’ Scrimshaw), Holden, McDonald (83’ Osadebe), Adebayo (45’ Sadler).
Unused Subs: Roberts, Sinclair.