Walsall progressed to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final after holding North End to a goalless draw at the Banks’s Stadium.
The home side dropped deeper and deeper as the game went on and the Saddlers cleared four efforts off the line, whilst goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell was man of the match, making three fantastic saves in the closing stages.
The game opened up after the break, but Thorsten Stuckmann only needed to make one save, early in the period, as the yellows dominated the half, however, they were unable to get the goal that would have thrown the tie wide open.
Manager Simon Grayson only made one change from the draw with Sheffield United in the FA Cup, Kevin Davies replacing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake in attack for the yellows.
The first half was a tight affair, both sides not wanting to lose the tie in the period, however, with a two goal deficit to make up it was perhaps no surprise that North End did the majority of the attacking,
On a quarter of an hour Paul Gallagher saw shot blocked in box after drifting through, past two defenders, unleashing with his left foot, bringing the first corner.
Before the 20 minute mark Kyel Reid was brought down by James O’Connor on the left corner of the box. Gallagher’s free kick was a good ball to the back post; Tom Clarke got under it but headed over the bar.
The Saddlers only chance in the opening period came on 21 minutes when John Welsh’s back header fell short and Paul Huntington’s clearance came off the home side’s top scorer Tom Bradshaw and out for a goal kick.
On the 50 minute mark Thorsten Stuckmann was called into action for the first time, denying Sawyers after Taylor’s cross from the left; an important stop from the German.
However, that brought North End to life; Gallagher forcing O’Donnell to make a fantastic save and then from the rebound Chris Humphrey’s effort hit Paul Downing and beat O’Donnell, but went past the post for a corner.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake replaced Kevin Davies on the hour mark and Jack King and Alan Browne followed ten minutes later. King joined Ebanks-Blake upfront as North End threw bodies forward in search of a vital goal to open the tie up.
North End won a free kick 20 yards out with four minutes to go allowing Paul Gallagher a shooting opportunity; it beat the wall, but O’Donnell palmed it clear and as it came back in he made another fine save to deny Ebanks-Blake from a header.
Five minutes were added on and North End had three balls cleared off the line and corners galore as they frantically threw everyone forward. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake then hit the cross bar as Walsall fans disgracefully entered the field with three minutes still left.
It was all North End with the Saddlers slicing balls and throwing bodies on the line for the cause – another corner came in and back out to Reid, but again O’Donnell claimed and the final whistle followed.
Walsall line-up: O’Donnell, Taylor, O’Connor, Downing, A Chambers, Bradshaw, Sawyers, Cain, J Chambers(Purkiss, 90), Cook (Baxendale, 88), Forde. Subs not used: Flanagan, Manset, MacGillivray.
PNE line-up: Stuckmann, Woods, Buchanan, Kilkenny, Clarke (c), Huntington, Humphrey (King, 70), Welsh (Browne, 70), K Davies (Ebanks-Blake, 60), Gallagher, Reid. Subs not used: Wiseman, King, Brownhill, Browne.
Attendance: 10,038 (907 away fans)
Referee: Mr N Miller