Gaming editor Benjamin Oakden reports on how Walsall were able to overturn a two-goal deficit to overcome Carlisle in the FA cup
Walsall have booked their place in the third round of the FA Cup after a thrilling finish to their game against Carlisle United. Two late goals from substitutes Andy Williams and Douglas James-Taylor overturned Carlisle’s lead.
Given that only five points separated the two fourth-tier sides in the league, it was to be expected that the game would be a close encounter. Since their relegation to League Two in 2019, Walsall have rarely mounted a challenge, and have even moved perilously close to the drop zone on several occasions. However, there’s a sense that the club is finally on the rise under manager Michael Flynn, with the Welshman guiding the Cobblers to a mid-table finish last season and putting them in the running for a play-off spot this term. As one Walsall fan I spoke to put it, the last few years had been “bloody miserable, but Flynn has given us a bit of hope”.
Carlisle found more success during the early stages, with their channel balls causing problems for the Walsall defence. They were surely spurred on by the impressive noise from the away end, with 418 fans making the journey from Cumbria amid the weekend’s rail strikes. As the game settled down Walsall began to see more of the ball, but they didn’t cause too many problems for the Carlisle defence, who looked dangerous on the counter.
Carlisle’s counter attacking threat paid off just after 25 minutes, with striker Ryan Edmundson releasing the ball to Jon Mellish down the left wing. He laid it off to Jack Armer, who delivered a lovely first-time cross to Edmundson, who finished well after being left completely unmarked in the box.
The Cumbrians had put in a perfect away performance during the first half, dealing with Walsall’s pressure well and catching them out whenever they lost possession high up the pitch.
As it turns out, it was a change in approach that swung the game in Walsall’s favour – and it came from Carlisle. As the second half progressed, it became clear that the Cumbrians were dropping deeper and seemed to lack the out-ball that had been so threatening in the first half. It was evident that Walsall were growing in confidence, and the away end, which had previously taken joy in mocking a bald Cobblers fan in the crowd, was becoming increasingly nervous.
As the clock began to run down, the Cumbrians started to employ some sly gamesmanship. However, the Cobblers finally got the bit of fortune they needed, with Emmanual Monthe playing a long pass down field. Holy came out of his box to deal with the ball but didn’t make contact, instead allowing it to run past him. Andy Williams pounced on his indecisiveness, stealing the ball from him and passing into an empty net.
Not prepared to settle for a replay after their late equaliser, Walsall were able to grab a dramatic winner deep into added time. Hutchinson controlled well and played a perfect through ball to Douglas James-Taylor, who slotted home to send the Cobblers through to the third round. Sadly, the occasion was soured with ugly scenes after the final whistle, with a brawl between the players leaving Carlisle’s Jamie Devitt with a black eye.
That unfortunate incident will do little to dull the joy of Walsall fans, who have an away tie against either Charlton Athletic or Stockport County to look forward to. More than that though, this win is surely endemic of the increasing confidence instilled into the Walsall team under Flynn. Victories like this will go some way in rebuilding the bond between the players and the supporters, as well as hopefully spurring the team on to greater league success.
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