Walsall report

James Clarke came back to haunt his former club as Newport County AFC earned a 2-1 win over Walsall at Rodney Parade.

The defender, who made the switch to south Wales after departing the Saddlers in the summer window, nodded home with three minutes left on the clock to earn the Exiles their first home league win of the campaign.

Clarke's defensive partner Mickey Demetriou had given the Exiles an early lead before Matty Dolan missed a golden opportunity to put County two goals to the good on the stroke of half-time when his penalty was kept out by Carl Rushworth.

Walsall responded by drawing level in stoppage time at the end of the first half through Tyrese Shade and it looked to have earned them a share of the spoils, but Clarke's late winner sent his former club back to the Midlands empty-handed.

Michael Flynn rang the changes after the Exiles’ 1-0 defeat against Northampton Town in midweek. An injury to Joe Day ensured Nick Townsend was given the nod between the sticks for his first league start of the season, while Dolan, James Clarke and Aaron Lewis took their place in the back five. 

Ed Upson - who was absent in midweek - joined Ollie Cooper in returning to midfield, as Dom Telford and Alex Fisher led the line for the Exiles.

Flynn demanded a response from his players after firing blanks against the Cobblers on Tuesday and the Exiles delivered by taking the lead inside the opening nine minutes. A deep corner from Dolan was nodded back into the danger area by Upson and, following a scramble in the penalty area, Demetriou saw his initial effort blocked before he prodded the ball beyond Carl Rushworth.

And the Exiles almost doubled their lead midway through the first half when Walsall gifted away possession from a throw-in, which allowed Livermore to send Telford through on goal. The striker got the better of Rollin Menayese, took the ball into the away side’s penalty area but fired his shot against the side netting from an acute angle.

Kieran Phillips and Hayden White linked up down the opposite end to provide the visitors with an opportunity to get themselves level, although Shade’s effort was comfortable for Townsend to gather.

A well-worked move from the Exiles saw Upson, Fisher and Norman combine on the edge of the area, before the latter was denied a goal against his former club after his curling effort was kept out by Rushworth.

The Exiles were then presented with a golden opportunity to grab their second from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time when Demetriou was brought down by White inside the penalty area. Dolan stepped up to take the spot-kick but saw his effort from 12 yards kept out by Rushworth, who guessed the right way and palmed the ball to safety. 

It looked as though County would still be heading into the break with the lead, although the penalty save inspired the visitors as they hit back in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Osadebe slipped the ball into the path of Shade, who cut inside on his right foot and rifled a low shot beyond Townsend to draw the Saddlers level.

Walsall barely had a kick before the equaliser - Shade’s leveller was their first on target of the afternoon - but they nearly pushed the Exiles again after the break and came close to taking the lead six minutes into the second half. As the hosts looked to play the ball out from the back, Townsend was pressurised by Osadebe, who threw his body in the way of a clearance but the Exiles survived.

It was a busy opening to the second period as Telford then enjoyed an opportunity to restore County’s advantage but Rushworth delivered a strong palm to deny his low effort.

There was a sigh of relief around Rodney Parade with 26 minutes left when Jack Earing’s curling shot deflected off George Miller’s foot, looped up in the air and bounced back off the crossbar.

Rushworth had endured a busy afternoon between the posts and was called into action again as Cooper’s pass fed Telford, who took a touch inside the penalty area and brought a strong save out of the Saddlers goalkeeper. The striker came close again with six minutes left of normal time, but Rushworth was again on hand to deny the striker.

But the Exiles finally forced the winner in the dying stages when Clarke arrived at the back post and planted Norman's cross into the opposite corner.

Newport County AFC: Nick Townsend, Aaron Lewis, Mickey Demetriou, Matty Dolan (C), James Clarke, Cameron Norman, Aneurin Livermore (Finn Azaz 65’), Ed Upson (Chris Missilou 78’), Ollie Cooper, Alex Fisher (Courtney Baker-Richardson 57’), Dom Telford.

Subs not used: Priestley Farquharson, Ryan Haynes, Kevin Ellison, Timmy Abraham.