Walsall and Sheffield United shared the spoils during an absorbing contest at the Banks’s Stadium.
Tom Bradshaw edged the hosts in front during a one-sided opening period before Jose Baxter equalised for Nigel Adkins’ side.
A fast and furious finale saw both teams go close to claiming a winner but to no avail as the contest finished all-square.
Walsall might not be League One’s biggest team in either size or stature but they pass and move with a precision few others can match. United spent most of the first-half chasing shadows as Dean Smith’s men pinged the ball around the pitch before Conor Sammon’s introduction changed the game’s dynamic.
Earlier, Bradshaw had given Walsall a deserved lead when he converted Romaine Sawyers’ cross. But, not for the first time in recent weeks, United showed commendable durability to stay in touch before Baxter dragged them level.
The visitors, who were furious not to have been awarded a penalty when Che Adams was forced to hurdle Neil Etheridge as he burst through Walsall’s defence, saw Baxter again go close. Adams was denied by Etheridge again as added time approached.
The mercury levels had plumetted in the Midlands ahead of kick-off and, were it not for George Long, United chances of winning this game would quickly have gone the same way. But the goalkeeper, again preferred to Mark Howard as Adkins enjoyed the luxury of naming an unchanged starting eleven, turned George’s Evans’ looping shot around the foot of his post after four minutes. Moments later, a chance was created at the other end of the pitch but Baxter, peeling away from his marker at the back of Etheridge’s penalty area, saw his first-time effort smothered. In the 11th minute, Baxter found himself in the thick of the action again. Dean Hammond wrestled possession away from Jason Demetriou and sent Jamal Campbell-Ryce darting down the wing. His cross was met by the Liverpudlian but the resulting header did not enjoy enough power to trouble Etheridge.
In the 18th minute, Long excelled himself with a superb triple save as Kieron Morris, Tom Bradshaw and Sawyers were all denied in quick succession as Campbell-Ryce claimed he had been fouled further upfield. As Walsall turned the screw a notch further, Paul Downing headed Morris’ corner against Long’s right hand upright before Milan Lalkovic beat Long with an excellent long range shot but not the crossbar. Adam Chambers did well to block Che Adams’ shot as the interval approached.
If United had hoped the break would curb Walsall’s momentum, they were mistaken. Five minutes after the restart, Bradshaw broke the deadlock when he turned home past Long who had been left horribly exposed following Sawyers’ cross. Etheridge did well to palm a low drive from Adams around the foot of the post when the youngster’s shot sneaked through a crowd of bodies but Eltringham made a terrible error in the 59th minute by failing to award the former Ilkeston forward a penalty when he was brought down by the goalkeeper. Adams, understandably, was furious while Adkins simply shook his head in dismay.
United’s mood took a turn for the better, though, in the 67th minute when Baxter drew them level. The was precious little power in his shot but the placement was superb and Etheridge could only grasp at think air as the ball nestled in the back of his net. Now it was United, with Sammon’s presence giving them to option to go long, who spent a period in control before Walsall’s heads cleared. Baxter was inches away from giving them the lead but his looping effort spiralled just past the post. Then, Etheridge again thwarted Adams from close range.
Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Chambers, Bradshaw, Sawyers, Hentry, Lalkovic (Cook 81), Morris (Forde 77), Evans. Not used: Taylor, Baxendale, Forde, MacGillivray, Preston, Flanagan, Cook.
Sheffield United: Long, Freeman, Harris, Basham, Coutts, Sharp (Sammon 62), Baxter, Collins, Campbell-Ryce (Scougall 72), Adams, Hammond. Not used: Howard, Done, McEveley, Reed, McGahey.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)