Match report for Walsall vs Plymouth Argyle on 04 Aug 18
Cook 45, Leahy 64
WHERE are the Brothers Grimm when you need them?
The fairytale was on. Ryan Edwards, having scored in his previous game, in January, before a cancer diagnosis robbed him of seven months of his career, returned on the opening day of the season to put Argyle in front.
Walsall, though, had not read the script. They equalised from Andy Cook on half-time, and scored a winner via Luke Leahy midway through the second half.
This was the giant throwing Jack from the beanstalk. Goldilocks being allergic to porridge. Rapunzel developing alopecia. You know when people unoriginally say 'you couldn't write it'? Well, you would not write this. It seemed so cruel.
In the end, for a second season in succession, Argyle played really well on the opening day of the season, but lost 2-1. That is the sad, but true, story.
Of 11 summer signings, 10 were in a position to make a debut if called upon, of which five were given that chance: Matt Macey, Joe Riley, Conor Grant, Ashley Smith-Brown and Scott Wootton all wore the green and white for the first time in what an old pal of ours used to call 'battle conditions'.
A further two - Niall Canavan and Freddie Ladapo - were given bench duties, while the presence on the starting line-up of two Ryans will have brought joy to all Pilgrims' hearts.
Statistics bore out last season's observation that Argyle without Ryan Taylor simply did not fare as well as any 11 that contained his presence. After missing the end of last season, and the beginning of pre-season, it was a thrill to see his auburn bonce leading Argyle's line.
His namesake Ryan Edwards has had a different, well-documented, path. We have agreed with Eddy that his successful cancer battle will not define him, and will not be a constant sidenote in every mention of his name. From here, it is all about his football, and nothing else. Your heart would have to be made of stone, though, to not smile at seeing him back in competitive action for the first time since January 13. This was the moment that #WithYouEddy was all leading to. Or at least it was, until it was usurped at about twenty to four.
The summer's activity allied to recoveries and departures meant only three players - David Fox, Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras - began this game as well as last season's concluding fixture at Gillingham.
The start to the game was plenty lively enough. Argyle looked dangerous from a free-kick, only for Josh Ginnelly to break and run virtually the length of the pitch before Macey interjected. Fox's shot from distance went over, Walsall goalkeeper Liam Roberts nearly let a backpass go under his feet and in, George Dobson struck a Walsall free-kick just wide and the home side had another trio of corners dealt with, all in the opening ten minutes of the game.
From a corner of their own, Argyle went close via the head of Scott Wootton, but had to defend a plethora of set-pieces from the hosts. Edwards then covered brilliantly when a loose pass from centre-back partner Wootton had fallen short of its target, and forward Andy Cook menacingly bore down on goal.
Argyle came alive when a lengthy spell of controlled possesion saw Lameiras cut in from the left, exchange passes with Taylor and fire in a shot that was well-blocked.
This was around the half-hour mark, and was the beginning of a spell of sustained Argyle possession, the Pilgrims moving the ball around confidently. One such passing move saw Grant shoot wide, after almost every player in green had been involved in the build-up.
Carey was tripped as part of another push forward, and the free-kick led to a moment that might be the most emotional of the whole season, just 39 minutes into the campaign.
Grant took his time lining up a lofted left-footed flick to the far post, and found Edwards, alone, in position to steer a controlled volley into the net. Talk about 'cometh the hour'; have you ever wanted more for a player to score in a particular game? What a man.
Walsall reacted quickly. The Argyle fans were still singing Ryan's praises as the Saddlers broke down the right, and Macey had to push the ball away from danger.
From the opposite flank, though, Walsall had a breakthrough. Morgan Ferrier had peeled away to the left, and as he entered the penalty area, Riley's retreating tackle came too late, and the home side had a penalty.
Cook stepped up, and had his penalty kick saved by Macey, but the ball struck the crossbar, rebounded down and was knocked in at point blank range by a relieved Cook, following up.
Both sides made slightly unexpected changes at half-time. Liam Kinsella replaced his captain Adam Chambers in the heart of Walsall's midfield, while Ruben Lameiras made way for Freddie Ladapo. In a reshuffle, the new man joined Taylor up front, with a rejigged midfield seeing Carey play from the right, Conor Grant on the left. Two football teams lining up 4-4-2 against each other? Whatever next?
Walsall seemed to react better to the changes, although one would like to think Macey had Jack Fitzwater's looping header covered, even if it did strike the crossbar, as the Saddlers looked to make their temporary ascendency count.
When Argyle were able to get hold of the ball, though, their football was the superior brand, and when Carey could get involved, one felt even stronger that Argyle had it in them to win this teetering encounter. Carey's mazy from the right ended with a shot well pushed away by Roberts.
At the other end, though, a moment's lack of awareness from the Irishman allowed left back Leahy to nip in and fire across goal, narrowly missing the far post.
The pendulum swung again, and after good approach play by Jamie Ness, Carey and Taylor, Fox chipped for Ladapo to attack, but he was shielded just about well enough.
A free-kick 25 yards from Argyle's goal had the potential to spell trouble, and Leahy's precise curling effort was just beyond any effective touch of Macey's, and found the net.
Argyle responded immediately, and Carey looked to have found Ladapo in space, but the latter was offside when in a dangerous position.
The same players combined only for Carey's shot to get blocked for a corner, which Walsall broke from, but were denied by Zeli Ismail being flagged offside.
Upon reaching 70 minutes, we then had a mad five minutes for referee Andy Haines, whose handling of the game had really been very good to this point. However, when Ismail clearly sliced out of play when crossing, and players on both sides trotted back to position to defend the goal-kick, the referee signalled for a Walsall corner. Nothing came of it, but only a minute later Argyle attacked, and Ladapo headed wide. To astonishment all round, a corner was given.
Issues were then compounded when it looked very much like Edwards was pushed when competing for the header, but no penalty was given. How annoyed should one feel to be denied what looked a clear foul from a corner that probably ought not to have been given?
Adams brought on Sawyer for Grant, went to three at the back, and gave Carey a little more license to roam. After two crosses that were cleared, Carey got to the bye-line and cut back inside, but although he was partially checked, one feels cries for a penalty were a case of the wish being father to the thought.
Nine minutes to go, and Ladapo wins an Argyle corner. Suddenly, an even bigger dream story is on. Could Edwards score not just one goal, but the equaliser too? Close. The corner found his head, Taylor turned it beyond the goalkeeper, but there were enough bodies on the line to keep the ball out.
Edwards did get another chance; a half-cleared corner came back to Carey, who stood the ball to the far post, but Edwards could only head over.
There was more madness in injury time. Cook struck a post at one end, while Roberts flapped around at the other, with Argyle unable to capitalise. Carey volleyed and saw the shot saved, and Argyle could not convert two subsequent corners.
Even the late introduction of substitute Gregg Wylde - two goals in as many opening days as a Pilgrim - could not salvage an equaliser which Argyle's pressure surely deserved.
A disappointment, for sure. But we know, do we not, not to make assumptions too early in a season.
Walsall (4-4-2): 1 Liam Roberts; 6 Nicky Devlin, 27 Jack Fitzwater, 5 Jon Guthrie, 3 Luke Leahy; 10 Zeli Ismail, 7 Adam Chambers (capt) (15 Liam Kinsella half-time), 4 George Dobson, 11 Josh Ginnelly (28 Kane Wilson 84); 16 Morgan Ferrier (8 Kieron Morris 57), 9 Andy Cook. Substitutes (not used): 13 Chris Dunn (gk), 17 Maz Kouhyar, 19 MItch Candlin, 26 Dylan Parker.
Booked: Devlin 80.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley, 5 Ryan Edwards, 25 Scott Wootton, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown (20 Gregg Wylde, 87); 15 Conor Grant (3 Gary Sawyer 74), 8 David Fox (capt), 6 Jamie Ness; 10 Graham Carey, 9 Ryan Taylor, 11 Ruben Lameiras (19 Freddie Ladapo half-time). Substitutes (not used): 4 Yann Songo'o, 14 Niall Canavan, 16 Joel Grant, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk).
Booked: Smith-Brown 37, Riley 45, Edwards 63, Ness 90.
Referee: Andy Haines.
Attendance: 5,755 (1,740 away)