Saddlers strike 22 seconds into second half to win 1-0
Luton Town 0
Att: 1,651 (87 from Walsall)
The Hatters’ sixth and final friendly of the pre-season campaign ended exactly the same way as 12 months ago – a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sky Bet League One club Walsall.
Manager Nathan Jones could take many positives from how the Town dominated possession for long periods and, in the first half especially, created several goalscoring opportunities in what proved another tough fitness test ahead of the 2016-17 opener at Plymouth next Saturday.
But ultimately, Simeon Jackson’s goal after a defensive error 22 seconds into the second half, settled the game.
After fielding a youthful side at Woking on Tuesday night, Jones started with just one player who kicked off that one – Jordan Cook lining up against the side he left this summer, building up his game time after joining the Hatters a week into the pre-season programme.
The ex-Saddler lined up to the left of the midfield diamond, with Olly Lee in the holding role with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu to his right and Cameron McGeehan at the tip behind Danny Hylton and Jack Marriott.
In a fairly even start, the Hatters created a couple of openings with Cook seeing a ninth minute shot blocked after excellent hold-up play and lay-off by Hylton, who then earned a round of applause for his first attempt on goal, although it finished well wide.
In the 16th minute Marriott called Saddlers keeper Neil Etheridge into action for the first time, Alan Sheehan – not for the first time – making fine progress down the left and playing the ball inside to the in-form striker, who shot low from 20 yards.
Six minutes later some excellent link-play almost created an opening to get Hylton into the box, and the Hatters were starting to dominate possession, at one stage stringing around 15 passes together and then pressing to win it back as soon as the move broke down.
Once the ball was back in the Town’s control, Sheehan swept a lovely ball out wide to O'Donnell, and the right-back plays Mpanzu to the byline and his cut-back finds Cook, but the midfielder’s side-footed effort goes over.
Marriott was looking razor sharp up front and moments after drawing huge applause for riding four challenges and keeping possession, the striker combined with McGeehan down the left and played the latter in to fire another shot at goal, too high on this occasion.
Sheehan's left foot had been one of the half’s delights, and his whipped in delivery from the right was well claimed by Walsall keeper Etheridge, before more intricate build-up play to edge of the area – Sheehan to Cook and onto Mpanzu – almost got Hylton in, but the final pass was just too far ahead of him and it remained goalless at the break.
Twenty-two seconds after the restart, it was 1-0 to Walsall – Simeon Jackson capitalising on a short back-header by O’Donnell to profit, despite the best efforts of goalkeeper Christian Walton.
The Hatters responded well, and a promising move – that started with the defence knocking it back to Walton who spread it out right first time to O'Donnell – ended with Mpanzu playing Marriott through, but the forward’s shot was dragged wide.
Marriott was proving a real menace for the visitors’ defenders, and after looking like he’d escaped the attentions of James O’Connor down the right flank, he went down for treatment for the second time – this time after receiving a blow to his chest as the defender cleared the danger.
Just before the hour mark, Hylton made space for a shot from well outside the area, and a deflection off Jason McCarthy’s heel had keeper Etheridge scrambling across his six-yard box to gratefully get his hands on the ball.
And in the 61st minute, summer signing Hylton – who was having an impressive game up top for the Hatters – had the ball in the back of the Saddlers' net, but the assistant’s flag was raised to rule it out for offside.
Marriott, who’d been moving gingerly since going down five minutes earlier, was soon replaced by Jonathan Smith, who slotted into midfield with the versatile Cook moved up front.
Glen Rea came on for Olly Lee in midfield in the 67th minute, just after a decent bit of pressure from the Town had ended with Dan Potts turning Mpanzu’s deep cross back into the danger area, but Walsall defended well.
Scott Cuthbert and Josh McQuoid came on for former Oxford duo Mullins and Hylton, and in the 78th minute, an inviting delivery from O'Donnell on the right, after good work by McQuoid and McGeehan, had James O'Connor at full stretch to clear.
Then Sheehan's corner from the left found Cuthbert eight yards out, but the defender couldn't direct his stabbed effort on goal.
In the 83rd minute, Zane Banton and Isaac Vassell - making his Kenilworth Road debut after signing a contract a week ago – came on for McGehan and Cook.
Five minutes later, Walton, who hadn't had a deal to do other than picking the ball out of his net, had to be on his guard to keep out Oztumer's 30-yard effort and the Town were soon pressing at the other end again, O'Donnell crossing from the left for Rea to head at goal.
The final chance for an equaliser passed the Hatters by in injury-time when Sheehan’s cross once again found Cuthbert, and the Scot’s header back across goal reached McQuoid, whose header in turn was comfortably collected by Etheridge.
Town: Walton, O’Donnell, Mullins (Cuthbert 77), Sheehan (C), Potts, Lee (Rea 67), Mpanzu, McGeehan, Cook, Hylton (McQuoid 77), Marriott (Smith 62). Subs: Vassell, Justin, Famewo, McJannett, Banton, Bakinson, King (GK)