The importance of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is often played down by many in the footballing world, but when you consider that there is a place at Wembley up for grabs that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Preston North End went into the tie against Walsall off the back of an impressive home victory against Championship outfit Norwich City. This means that The Lilywhites are into the fourth round of the FA Cup, sit third in League One and were two games away from Wembley.
The odds seemed to favour Preston, but in cup football anything can happen.
The first meaningful chance of the half came three minutes later as Preston winger Paul Gallagher crossed to Beckford whose header was saved by O’Donnell.
After a good start by their side the Preston fans began to find their voices a quarter of an hour in, as they tried to motivate their team.
Shortly after this a good turn by Beckford was unfortunately for Preston not matched by a good shot, as the Englishman fired over from the edge of the box.
A few minutes later, Chris Humphrey dispossessed the Walsall captain Chambers and got to the by-line but he couldn’t find anyone with the cross.
Unsurprisingly it was Preston who had the next chance in a spell of dominance for the home team as a great piece of play by Gallagher saw him lose his man, cut inside and find Beckford, who headed wide to O’Donnell’s right-hand post.
Soon after, a Gallagher cross is headed straight at O’Donnell as Walsall looked unable to deal with Preston.
Around the half-hour mark Beckford was denied by a great save from O’Donnell, after another great piece of play by Gallagher who beats his man and puts in a good cross.
The first real chance of the half from Walsall came on the half-hour mark, as Tom Bradshaw wriggled his way through and hit a shot that was just wide of the left post.
Five minutes later Walsall hit the woodwork, as a Taylor free-kick from 22 yards hit the post.
The last action of the half came as a long range effort by Cain was parried by Stuckmann.
Five minutes into the second half saw a Cain effort from distance go just over.
Gallagher again caused trouble down the left as seven minutes after the restart his cross found Beckford yet again, who on the stretch couldn’t get decent contact.
Less than a minute later and a foul by Chris Humphrey on Jordan Cook led to Cook taking the free-kick and forcing Stuckmann to make the save.
A few minutes later, a free-kick taken by Paul Gallagher went just over and landed on the roof of Richard O’Donnell’s net.
With just over 15 minutes to go in the match Preston made a double-substitution as the injured Beckford was replaced by Jack King and Chris Humphrey was replaced by debutant Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
Neil Kilkenny was booked for what can only be described as a rugby tackle on Romaine Sawyers and the resulting free kick was scored by Anthony Forde to but the visitors 1-0 up with 6 minutes left.
The second goal of the night and second for Walsall came soon after as Tom Bradshaw slid the ball through the legs of the on-rushing Thorsten Stuckmann and put the game to bed.
The goal-scorer of the second goal Bradshaw was substituted soon after, his name was sung by the Walsall fans as he walked off the Deepdale pitch, he was replaced by Ashley Grimes.
A disappointing result for The Lilywhites in front of a crowd of 8561, Preston really have it all to do in the second leg if they want to go to Wembley.
PNE starting Xl: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Clarke, Huntington, Laird, Browne, Kilkenny, Gallagher, Humphrey, Beckford and K.Davies.
Walsall starting XI: O’Donnell, Taylor, O’Connor, J. Chambers, Downing, Cook, Cain, A. Chambers, Forde, Sawyers, Bradshaw.