Walsall 0 PNE 3
Goals from Joel Byrom, Chris Humphrey and Lee Holmes gave North End their first three points of the season and ended Walsall’s 16 game unbeaten home run.
The Lilywhites were outstanding from the outset and had a single goal half-time lead, added to by the wingers after the interval, in front of celebrity fan and WWE superstar Wade Barrett at the Banks’s Stadium.
Simon Grayosn’s men took the lead on the half hour mark, Byrom curling a free kick from the right hand corner of the box into the bottom left hand corner, avoiding everyone to sneak in.
After the break they added two more in quick succession either side of the hour mark, from wing men Chris Humphrey and Lee Holmes, both scoring in front of the North End faithful.
It was no more than the Lilywhites deserved after a superb first half performance, passing the ball crisply with a tremendous work-rate throughout the team.
Manager Simon Grayson had made two changes from the side that lost at Burnley, Kevin Davies and Declan Rudd returning in place of Thorsten Stuckmann and Iain Hume, retaining the defensive three man formation.
The game started brightly; a good move saw Laird, Holmes and Davies combine, with Bevon through, cutting back onto his right foot, but Paul Downing did well to block his shot which eventually rolled through to O’Donnell in the Saddlers goal.
Walsall local Chris Humphrey looked bright on the right and he raced away in the seventh minute before firing low and hard at goal, only for the home keeper to again get a strong hand to it and put the ball behind for a corner.
Five minutes later and a whipped cross from the right by Lee Holmes, was met by Stuart Beavon, who flicked the header inches past the left hand post.
The pressure continued to come from the visitors and just before the 20 minute mark Holmes found himself clean through on goal after a Beavon ball over the top, however, a brilliant recovery tackle by Adam Chambers denied him opener the opener.
It took the visitors 25 minutes to show any sort of threat, but when they did it was a good opportunity. Ashley Hemmings escaped down right for Walsall, he tried to pull the ball back to penalty spot for Craig Westcarr, but his shot was dragged well wide of Declan Rudd’s goal.
North End took a fully deserved lead on the half hour mark. Stuart Beavon was upended just outside the right hand corner of the box and dead ball expert Joel Byrom stepped up and curled a free kick from the right hand corner of the box into the bottom left hand corner, with Paul Huntington following it in just in, but the goal was given to the No.13.
North End almost doubled their lead within 15 seconds of the second half getting underway, Chris Humphrey beating the offside trap down the right, crossing deep for Kevin Davies, but his looping header was just over the bar. Then 45 seconds later again they broke down the right, this time Stuart Beavon cutting inside and firing a left footed effort an inch past the right hand upright.
The North End boss was forced into an early reshuffle when Stuart Beavon was forced off with an injury, Joe Garner replacing his fellow front man on 50 minutes.
The pace of Humphrey down the right was causing all sorts of problems for the Saddlers and on 56 minutes he raced inside the full back and drilled a ball across the six yard box. Kevin davies was just behind it and Scott Laird at the back post couldn’t quite find the target as he stretched to reach the ball.
But two minutes later it was 2-0 and it was Humphrey who delivered it. Joe Garner collected the ball on the edge of the ‘D’, Saddlers skipper Andy Butler slipped leaving a gap and Garner fed the ball right to Humphrey, his first touch was almost a tackle, taking it off Malvind Benning, but he then cut inside and drilled a shot that took a slight deflection and looped over Richard O’Donnell and into the back of the net, much to the delight of the 582 following fans behind the net.
And it was 3-0 within 150 seconds. This time a long ball was flicked on by Kevin Davies and collected by Chris Humphrey on the right. He drilled a ball across but Malvind Benning was in the way. He made a difficult job of controlling it – the North End fans shouting for a penalty for hand ball behind the goal – and this allowed Lee Holmes to nip in, rob him of the ball and dink it past the keeper into the bottom left hand corner.
The home side came back into the game and a Bailey Wright tackle and an excellent save from Declan Rudd from respective substitutes Romaine Sawyers and Nicky Featherstone with 18 minutes left keeping the lead at three.
North End had strong shouts for a penalty with 13 minutes to go, Joe Garner getting onto change David Buchanan’s cross from the left; but in the ricochet from his shot Paul Downing appeared to handle the ball away, but Phil Gibbs – the match official – waved play on as the cries went unanswered.
Another sub, Nicky Wroe, almost made it four with his first touch, Davies, with his back to goal, laying off Buchanan’s left wing ball perfectly for the onrushing midfield man, but his volley was just over the bar from 15 yards out – a sweet strike, but just too high.
: O’Donnell, Butler, A Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic, Westcarr (Featherstone, 65), Hemmings (Sawyers, 60), Downing, Benning (Taylor, 65), J Chambers, Baxendale. Subs not used: Purkiss, Roberts, Hewitt, McQuilkin.Walsall line-up
: Rudd, Keane, Laird (Buchanan, 71), Huntington, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey, K Davies, Beavon (Garner, 50), Holmes (Wreo, 79), Byrom. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Welsh, Mousinho, Hume.PNE line-up
: 4,205 (582 away fans)Attendance
: Mr Phil GibbsReferee