Match report: Walsall 1 Sheffield United 1

Chris Porter scores at Walsall. Pic: Martyn Harrison.
Chris Porter scores at Walsall. Pic: Martyn Harrison.
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By his own admission Chris Porter has often flattered to deceive since arriving at Bramall Lane.

But after numerous false starts and a tongue-lashing from his manager, the Sheffield United centre-forward finally produced the type of performance which illustrated why Danny Wilson has been so keen to persevere.

Porter, whose scrambled goal ensured the visitors took a point from this tense contest against a Walsall side now unbeaten in 13 outings, possesses the attributes required to wreak havoc among League One defences.

Previously lacking the devilish streak required to mould them into an effective package though, it appears Wilson’s brutally frank critique of his contribution to United’s season so far has had the desired effect.

“I know how to get goals at this level,” Porter, scoring for the first time since returning from a loan spell with Shrewsbury Town, said. “I’ve done it in the past but not enough over the last two years. I admit that.

“I probably didn’t deserve to be playing before I went away with the way was doing when I did get a chance and also during training. You start to feel frustrated and I’m sure that shows.

“It’s important that you’re honest with yourself but now I’m back and I’m hopefully going to kick on.

“The one thing I will always do is give absolutely everything. One hundred per cent.”

Wilson, whose side are now fifth in the table but with games in hand on all of their main rivals, described Saturday’s match as a “game of two halves.” And he was right.

Before the interval United failed to establish any sort of foothold as their opponents, with Febian Brandy and James Baxendale excelling in attack, took complete charge.

Indeed, they were fortunate not to already be trailing when Craig Westcarr, previously of Chesterfield, edged Walsall in front moments before the interval.

However, the introduction of Porter and Callum McFadzean, aged 19, equipped United with a presence and purpose they had sorely lacked during the opening period.

Their industry was rewarded when Kevin McDonald’s shot spun back off a post, allowing Porter to pounce from close range.

“It was a poacher’s effort but, as far as I’m concerned, those ones are the best,” he said. “I was pleased to score but I’d swap my goal for a victory all day long.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get a few of those now, go on a run and really pressurise the clubs above us.

“It’s in our hands and that’s a good position to be in. Not having to rely on anyone else.”

Dean Smith, the Walsall manager, has mastered the art of giving careers which had lost their way a sense of direction.

Brandy appeared destined for big things when he helped Manchester United overcome Juventus in the Champions Youth Cup final six years ago but was on a downward spiral when he arrived at the Banks’s Stadium last summer.

Baxendale, born in Thorne and previously of Leeds and Doncaster Rovers, was also struggling to fulfil his potential before earning a move to the West Midlands but both were a constant menace with the latter providing the cross which Westcarr turned home.

If Brandy can learn to convert chances - he spurned two gilt edged ones either side of the break - a return to the top-flight could beckon.

“We need to win all of our last three,” Westcarr, assessing eighth placed Walsall’s play-off ambitions, said. “If we do that then I think it will be enough because, from what I’ve seen, none of the teams above us are good enough to win them all.

“If we do win them and still don’t make it then fair enough.”

United, though, also boast an enviable reputation for producing young talent and eight products of their youth system, including Walsall’s Ben Purkiss, were on show here.

One of those, McFadzean, was responsible for helping Porter wrestle back the advantage with his positive approach creating opportunities for the likes of Matt Hill and Jonathan Forte.

“Sometimes the younger lads are fearless,” Wilson said. “You saw that with the Walsall boys and Callum was like that too. He did ever so well and was really positive. He’s got to keep it going. Keep on improving and forcing things because he’s been coming on leaps and bounds.”

Walsall started brightly with Neill Collins, who later headed Barry Robson’s free-kick wide, forced to prevent Jamie Paterson’s shot reaching George Long before Brandy fired inches wide.

Porter made an immediate impact after entering the fray when he found McDonald on the edge of the area after Westcarr’s opener but the Scot blazed over the crossbar.

Brandy should have doubled Walsall’s advantage after combining well with Baxendale and Porter, having earlier failed to hit the target with an angled attempt, made him pay by prodding the ball across the line.

George Long, the United goalkeeper, denied Brandy as Walsall attempted to rally while Jonathan Forte, edging inside to support his fellow marksman, went close on the turn.

“The next few games are absolutely massive for us now,” Porter said. “We are in control of things and that’s how we want it to stay.”