Home set-back for the youth team...The Saddlers’ youth team slipped to defeat at the hands of Rochdale in The Football League Youth Alliance North-West Division at Ray Hall Lane on Saturday morning.
Dominic Reid’s 83rd minute strike, coupled with James Hooper’s first-half effort was enough to cancel out Tevin Shakespeare’s early goal for The Saddlers.
The Saddlers went into the game knowing a victory would claw them to within two points of third-placed Rochdale and put them firmly back into the title race, and they showed their intent from the off.
Nathan Owen tried his luck from the edge of the area after Luke Delaney’s free-kick rebounded off the wall, Dale goalkeeper, Jonathan Musangu, did well to hold on.
But Musangu could do nothing to stop Shakespeare giving The Saddlers a deserved lead inside 10 minutes. After Levi Rowley received the ball out wide, he drifted in before playing a reverse pass to Shakespeare, who took on his marker before slotting the ball underneath the advancing ‘keeper.
The Lancashire oufit looked to hit back immediately; Reid found space on the edge of The Saddlers’ penalty area before dragging his effort narrowly wide of the upright.
As we approached the 30 minute mark, Reid’s influence on the game was growing. After a neat interchange of passes with Harry Pratt, Reid once again tried his luck from the edge of the box, but could only produce an exact copy of his earlier effort.
But Dale did equalise with their next attack. Musangu’s long clearance was flicked on by Pratt before Hooper raced onto it and slotted the ball under Saddlers’ stopper Dan Jezeph, who was recalled to the starting line-up after missing out in the victory over Morecambe last weekend.
The Saddlers almost regained the lead instantly as Kyle Rowley met Luke Delaney’s free-kick, but the skipper saw his downward header drop agonisingly wide of the far post with Musangu stranded.
Shakespeare should have scored his second of the match just before the interval. Levi Rowley embarked on a mazy run before sliding Shakespeare through, but the striker fired well over the bar under pressure from Rochdale’s Connor Cowan-Thompson.
The second period began slowly and neither side threatened until after the hour mark. But The Saddlers were first to go on the offensive, Shakespeare’s latest foray into the visitors’ box ended with him shooting straight at Musangu from an awkward angle.
Reid was booked for a poor challenge on Shakespeare giving Delaney the chance to conjure something up from a trademark set piece. His deep delivery found Lewis Probert, but the defender’s header was misjudged and sailed harmlessly wide of the target.
The youngsters were then dealt the ultimate sucker punch. Callum Scheram fed Reid in the inside left position before the winger sumptuously curled an effort into the far corner to ensure Rochdale claimed the spoils.
This defeat will have been hard to take for Neil Woods’ side but they have the perfect chance to bounce back when they travel to Burnley on Thursday afternoon in a rearranged fixture.
WALSALL: Jezeph, J. Smith, Cockerill-Mollett, Sangha, K. Rowley, Probert, Delaney, Owen, Shakespeare, L. Rowley, Pooni (Hayes-Docherty). Subs not used: Oliver, Caswell, Roberts, Cela.
By ALEX DICKEN