Match Report: Walsall 1-2 VILLA
By Claire Boden
Villa's 2010-11 pre-season preparations gathered pace with a 2-1 win against Walsall.
A goal in each half from Andreas Weimann secured a comfortable victory at the Banks's Stadium.
Alex Nicholls pulled a goal back for the Saddlers 15 minutes from time but the damage had already been inflicted on the League One outfit.
Sporting the new black away strip, Martin O'Neill's side dominated the match from the first to the final whistle with an assured display on the eve of the squad flying out to Portugal for the Guadiana Cup.
Villa began the match with intent at the Banks's Stadium. John Carew powered down the flank inside the open exchanges, skipping the oncoming challenges, but a good block from Oliver Lancashire thwarted the danger.
With three minutes played, Carlos Cuellar entered the fray in place of James Collins.
The centre-back had been struggling since last week with a knock sustained on the pre-season tour of Dublin and was taken off as a precaution.
The claret and blues were spraying the ball around the park with confidence and a minute later the first sight of goal came Villa's way.
Marc Albrighton's sweet centre found the head of the lurking Steve Sidwell inside the penalty area but Walsall keeper Jonny Brain displayed great agility to keep the ball out and keep his side in the match.
Villa were enjoying the lion's share of possession in the early stages and were certainly causing the Saddlers defence all sorts of problems, especially through Barry Bannan and Albrighton.
Despite Villa bossing the show, Walsall almost took the lead on 16 minutes.
Troy Deeney brought the best out of Brad Friedel with a powerful close-range header which the USA custodian pushed around the post.
That chance rattled Villa into life with Bannan sprinted down the left wing. The young Scot fed a delightful through ball to the onrushing Weimann, who horribly miscued into the upper echelons of the Floors-2-Go Stand.
Thereafter Villa applied the pressure with Carew agonisingly heading inches over from a Bannan cross, before the breakthrough came with 26 minutes on the clock.
Carew supplied the ammunition with a teasing centre to Weimann. The striker guided the ball past Brain via a deflection to give O' Neill's team a deserved lead.
Bannan and Albrighton were the shining lights in the first 30 minutes of this pre-season friendly encounter and the latter went close with a powerful shot that sailed over the crossbar much to Brain's relief in the Walsall goal.
Albrighton and Bannan were orchestrating the strings in midfield. And it was Albrighton's delicious centre that found the lurking Carew, but the striker could only aim his header wide.
The League One outfit fashioned two chances before the half-time interval through Clayton McDonald and Matt Richards, but the danger was comfortably cleared by Friedel and Cuellar.
Walsall emerged for the second period with fire in their bellies trying to restore parity to proceedings and it was dangerman Deeney who was at the fulcrum of all their good work yet no clear cut-chances were being fashioned.
Indeed, it was Villa causing the Saddlers defence to work overtime. First Weimann went close from point blank range.
Next it was Carew's turn to cause havoc with a mazy run which ended in the Norwegian international dragging his shot wide.
Defender Cuellar was getting in on the act too. The centre-half stabbed the ball goalward inside the penalty area but the shot was blocked.
Villa's dominance ignited the travelling claret and blue faithful and the Banks's Stadium felt like Villa Park.
On 62 minutes Weimann was denied his second goal of the evening.
Following Albrighton's low centre, the Austrian under-19 international side-footed the ball against the post.
Shortly after the woodwork was rattled again, but this time much to the agony of the home faithful.
Deeney's shot was wonderfully saved by Friedel and the resulting corner saw former Villa striker Darren Byfield crash the crossbar with a powerful header.
The game was put beyond Walsall on 66 minutes. Weimann grabbing his second goal of the match when he pounced on Albrighton's shot which was spilt by keeper Brain.
The Saddlers pulled a goal back on 75 through substitute Nicholls. Richard Taundry's cross was met by Nicholls who steered the ball past Parish.
A familiar face joined the fray for the last 10 minutes with former Villa reserve goalkeeper David Bevan entering proceedings.
A couple of scary moments at the death ensured a nervy finish but Villa collected their second win of the 2010-11 pre-season campaign.
VILLA: Friedel (Parish 72), Shorey (Lowry 46), Beye (Lichaj 46), Collins (Cuellar 3), Davies (Clarke 67), Reo-Coker (Salifou 67), Bannan, Albrighton (Hogg 72), Sidwell, Carew, Weimann.