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Report: Bristol City 2-0 Walsall

40,000 Bristolians witnessed City create history by becoming the first club to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for a third time at Wembley.

Defenders Aden Flint and Mark Little scored either side of half-time to ensure City’s name was on the trophy for a third time under three different competition names at a third different stadium.

A first win at the new Wembley followed success at the old stadium in the Freight Rover Trophy in 1986 and the LDV Vans Trophy triumph of 2003 in Cardiff.

Steve Cotterill made two changes to his side following the 3-0 midweek victory over Crewe Alexandra at Ashton Gate.

Derrick Williams returned from injury to take his usual spot on the left side of the back three at the expense of Greg Cunningham, while Kieran Agard was preferred to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas up front.

It was a lively start to the final – not always the case on showpiece occasions with a trophy up for grabs.

City looked the brighter team from kick-off, with Luke Freeman letting fly from distance with a shot that just whisked over the crossbar.

Then Korey Smith’s deflected effort forced the game’s first corner after good work from Agard and Freeman, while Anthony Forde forced Frank Fielding into his first save of the day all inside the opening seven minutes.

There was no shortage of energy about a City team chalking up a half-century of matches for the season, with Mark Little and Joe Bryan typically clocking up the miles down the flanks and Agard stretching the Walsall back four at every opportunity.

Freeman has been the division’s most potent provider and was keen to put goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell under pressure from the start with a couple of corners swinging in just under the crossbar.

When one was helped on its way for another set-piece on the opposite side, it was Marlon Pack who delivered on to the head of room-mate Flint, who powered a downward header into the bottom corner from six yards with O’Donnell helpless.

The underdogs responded well to the early setback. Jordan Cook headed over when Andy Taylor’s cross arrived just fractionally behind him before City had a succession of corners to defend.

At the other end, the ever-willing Agard was not giving the Walsall backline a moment’s peace, robbing Paul Downing and racing into the box but ultimately failing to find strike partner Aaron Wilbraham or unduly test O’Donnell after his shot was half-blocked on the way through to the keeper.

City were doing a good job of keeping the Sadders at arm’s length, with the Midlands club not lacking motivation themselves on their first ever Wembley appearance.

Cotterill’s side were controlling much of the possession, but did endure one heart in mouth moment three minutes from the end of the first half when Luke Ayling headed clear only to Taylor, who struck a brilliant left-footed volley from 25 yards that rose only just enough to clear the crossbar. 

City had been comfortably the better side but needed the second goal to give them breathing space in the final.

There was no sluggishness after the interval as the Robins went in for the kill. Williams hooked the ball over after Flint headed a deep free kick back across goal before Little smuggled the ball over the line to double the lead on 51 minutes.

Freeman was patient, biding his time down by the corner flag and shaping to cross on more than one occasion before finally delivering with his right foot towards the back post and the onrushing Little.

The defender’s initial header was saved at point-blank range by O’Donnell before Little’s right knee nudged the ball into the net in front of a sea of red and white behind the Walsall goal.

The Saddlers are among the lowest scorers in League One and must have been fearing the worst, but were soon within inches of regaining a foothold in the contest thanks to some fine wing play from Cook.   

Nutmegging Luke Ayling near the touchline, he raced towards the box before seemingly miss-hitting a left-footed cross towards the far corner of the goal.

Fielding was back-pedalling and did remarkably well to get fingertips to the ball and help it on to the inside of the upright and back into play, before Williams lunged in heroically to keep top scorer Tom Bradshaw at bay on the follow-up.

It was a huge let-off for City, who had their sights set on a third goal straightaway. 

Little surged down the right wing and crossed to the offside Wilbraham, who looked certain to score from close range only to be denied by a superb O’Donnell save before Bryan headed the rebound against the crossbar.

Only after Walsall survived the ensuing goalmouth scramble did anybody inside Wembley realise Wilbraham had already been flagged offside for his part in the move.
From then on City were never troubled again. Part one of the Double was complete.

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