Carlisle United slumped to their first home defeat of the new year as they came up against an in-form Walsall side who are mounting a late challenge for an end-of-season play-off place thanks to their impressive run of results.
The confident visitors outplayed their hosts with a display of attacking football which was devastating and direct in equal measures.
“We don’t have any arguments with the penalty but it was an awful goal to concede to a team like this,” manager Greg Abbott said. “All of the preparation work goes out of the window but you then have to dig deep and get back into it. I thought we gave possession away far too easily and we didn’t make life difficult enough for them.
“The young lads will learn a lot from this because there’s nowhere to hide. You have to put your mistakes behind you and push on because this industry is not very forgiving at all. Our confidence has taken a real slap but we can’t dwell over it. It was a poor, poor performance and we have to get back into work for the rest of this week and do what we can to put it right.”
It was a disastrous start for the Cumbrians as a cross-field pass from Paterson found teenager Dave Symington, making his first start since New Year’s Day, ball watching in the centre of the park. Febian Brandy touched it beautifully into the path of Adam Chambers and referee Paul Tierney was left with no option but to point at the spot as Gillespie raced off his line and bundled the marauding right back to the floor. Will Grigg stepped up to notch his twelfth of the season with a crisply taken spot kick.
It became almost one way traffic as the confident Saddlers passed their way around the shell-shocked Carlisle midfield and Livesey had to move smartly to block a Brandy header as he found space from a Taylor free kick. The dangerous Jamie Paterson then set off on a run across the face of the 18-yard and he tested Gillespie with a shot through legs which had to be watched.
Walsall maintained the forward momentum and a direct run from Brandy took him to the heart of trouble. Taylor called for it on the overlap and his low cross was an inch away from being touched home by Grigg.
The Cumbrians eventually found some possession and Liam Noble curled a teaser wide after good work from Miller. The pair combined again moments later and McCarey did well to block on the dive as the midfielder rattled a crunching shot towards the bottom corner.
James Berrett went close when he rose to greet a cross from McGovern and Loy had the stopper scrambling across his line as he spun to try to his luck from distance. McCarey was beaten but it sped just wide of the upright.
The guile of Febian Brandy kept United busy at the back and he opened things up again just before half time when he twisted away from two markers in midfield. Sam Mantom took over and Gillespie had to react late to make a parried save.
Carlisle had some good possession in time added on for the half and Noble pushed a left foot volley wide when Miller sent him clear. McGovern then forced an instinctive shot on the run into the advertising boards as he tried to catch Aaron McCarey unawares.
Dave Symington thumped a long range free kick high into the sky as the Cumbrians tried to rally after the break but Walsall turned the screws with a string of chances which should have put the game beyond doubt.
Brandy had an effort blocked by O’Hanlon and Westcarr brought a full length stretch from Gillespie as he went for glory. Paterson and Grigg were then wasteful when they had options.
Miller and Symington tried snapshots as United continued to misfire and Paterson dragged a scuffed shot wide as the Saddlers sensed they could get more from the game. Grigg then blazed over as he found himself off balance, but the pressure was made to count midway through the half when Taylor picked up a loose ball in midfield. He surged forward and crossed early, and the predatory Will Grigg did the rest with a neat touch and a drop of the shoulder which left the defence cruelly exposed.
The Saddlers sat on their lead and a half chance fell for Mark Beck when McCarey flapped at a McGovern delivery. The big striker wrapped his boot round it but Butler was on the line and on hand to hook it clear.
Febian Brandy was in an unstoppable mood and he went on a mesmerising run which left O’Hanlon and Mustoe on the floor. But the Saddlers had the final say when Brandy burst through for one last attack. Gillespie saved and Livesey blocked the Grigg follow up, but the striker stayed alert to grab his hat-trick as he slid the loose ball into an empty net.
Walsall - Grigg (pen 3, 66, 86)
United - Berrett (18)
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Mustoe, McGovern (Welsh 75), Berrett, Noble, Symington, Loy (Beck 64), Miller (Cadamarteri 76). Subs - Collin, Murphy, Thirlwell, Potts.
Walsall - McCarey, Butler, A Chambers, Grigg, Paterson, Brandy (Baxendale 89), Downing, J Chambers (Holden 81), Taylor, Mantom, Westcarr (Featherstone 89). Subs - Grof, Hemmings, Bowerman, Benning.
Referee - Mr Paul Tierney
Attendance - 3,266 (163 away fans)