Jon McCarthy has plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the new season after a performance full of promise from his Chester side.

A late strike from Mitch Candlin handed Jon Whitney's Walsall victory but that was harsh on the Blues, who dominated for sustained periods in the second-half, after Nyal Bell's outstanding volley had cancelled out Luke Leahy's first-half opener.

Walsall's Simeon Jackson also saw a penalty saved by Chester's trialist goalkeeper, and overall it was a positive afternoon for McCarthy and his side, who moved the ball well for long periods and kept their shape defensively against a near full-strength League One outfit.

“It was good but I think we showed them too much respect in the first-half,” said McCarthy, who hopes to have Ross Hannah back available for next weekend's friendly against Port Vale.

“When we got it right I thought we were the better team in the second-half.

“I'm delighted that Jon and his staff have brought a full team down and that's what we wanted. You've seen what we've done with the volume of training and games, we've been out on the road and done two weeks of work which we've got plenty from.

“Now it's set up for two weeks to play against a better quality and standard and that's important and I'm really pleased with it.

“We've got a full week to analyse this now, we'll have a recovery day Monday, some players will be working, then a really hard working day on Tuesday for everyone, set pieces Thursday into a game Saturday.

“This is a week that will replicate how our season will be and it sets us up for Solihull. We almost plan and prepare how next week will be and that's crucial.

“I'm hoping people remember what we did, as that's what we've got. I ask people to be realistic but you'll see a really big work ethic from us and a really well organised 4-4-2.

“You can see what I've done, I've made sure I've got four strikers and eight midfielders so I can do that. We're a little light defensively, but we know that, we were a little deep today and allowed them to play.

“But that will happen to us this season but it won't be easy to cut us open, even on those off days, teams won't get many chances against us.”

Maz Kouhyar had the Saddlers' first chance on three minutes, firing low from 20 yards out at the Blues' trialist goalkeeper.

The game sparked into life on 21 minutes as Walsall were awarded a penalty, Jackson brought down in the box by Lathaniel Rowe-Turner after good work down the right from Kouhyar.

Former Norwich striker Jackson stepped up to take resulting spot kick but it was superbly saved down to his right by Chester's trialist goalkeeper, making his first appearance of pre-season.

If that was a let-off for the Blues, they failed to take advantage as the Saddlers grabbed the lead on 26 minutes.

Paul Turnbull slid in to deny Erhun Oztumer but from the resulting corner, Andy Halls mistimed his clearance straight into Leahy's path and the full-back stabbed home into the roof of the net from 10 yards.

Skipper Craig Mahon sparked Chester's best moment so far on the stroke of half-time, beating Adam Chambers and finding James Akintunde on halfway, whose first-touch lay-off found Harry White, who burst into the box, beat his man and fired a goalbound shot which was deflected behind for a corner.

Oztumer was the first to threaten in the second-half with a curling effort from 20 yards which dipped over the bar, but it was soon all-square as Bell made an instant impact.

Collecting Liam Davies' through ball, Bell smashed an unstoppable half-volley into the top corner from the edge of the area to the delight of the home faithful.

Oztumer continued to look lively and his drilled cross was hooked clear by Rowe-Turner before White's hardwork earned a corner on 58 minutes, comfortably caught by Liam Roberts, who spent last season on-loan at the Deva.

Kouhyar stabbed an effort goalwards but it was easily claimed before Davies fed White but the offside flag went up.

Lucas Dawson's corner was nearly tucked home by Nathan Brown as the Blues pressed for a winner in driving rain at Bumpers Lane.

Davies – already a scorer of two terrific pre-season goals – let fly from 30 yards with his potent left foot to sting Roberts' palms, but it was Walsall who grabbed the decisive goal late on.

With six minutes remaining, Kieron Morris' powerful shot was blocked by Ryan Astles but it fell to the feet of Candlin, who instinctively drilled the ball home from 12 yards out.

It was cruel on the Blues, who dominated the second-half and can be proud of their efforts.

Chester: Trialist A (Trialist B), Halls (Jones 78), Astles, McCombe, Rowe-Turner, Chapell (Waters), James (Joyce 66), Turnbull (Dawson 66), Mahon (Davies 45), Akintunde (Bell 45), White (Brown 68).

Walsall: Roberts, Oztumer, Wilson, Guthrie, Leahy, Kouhyar (Hayles 83), Edwards (Morris 64), Flanagan, Chambers (Sangha 83), Jackson (Candlin 79), Kinsella.

Attendance: 888

Man of the match:

John McCombe – Excellent display from the experienced centre-back who looks like being a fine addition.