A young Walsall side got more vital minutes in the legs and crucial match experience as they were narrowl beaten 3-2 by Stafford Rangers at Marston Road in the Saddlers’ latest pre-season friendly.
First-half strikes from Louis Briscoe and Dan Westwood - a quick-fire double - were supported by Michael Batchelor’s header just shy of the hour as Rangers took a 3-0 lead.
Mitch Candlin’s fine 25-yard strike put the Saddlers on the scoresheet for the first time in the match and the young forward, who made his first team debut against Bradford City last season, then netted a second with just under 10 minutes to play as he turned home Cody Fisher’s low cross.
The Saddlers can be pleased with their evening's work with plenty of lessons undoubtedly learned on the evening.
Liam Roberts played a full 90 minutes between the sticks behind an initial back four of Sam Tonks, captain Kory Roberts, Dan Vann and Callum Cockerill-Mollett - who would move to centre-half for the second half as Fisher entered the game at the break.
Milan Butterfield and Jordon Sangha began in the centre with Tobias Hayles-Docherty and Will Shorrock providing the width behind a front two of Cameron Peters and Candlin.
Stafford displayed their threat early as Westwood curled over the bar after just two minutes, and Kory Roberts stood up well to make a brave block from a close-range Richard Gregory shot.
Rangers took the lead on 21 minutes through a fine goal from BRISCOE. Thirty yards from the byline and hugging the right touchline, Briscoe sent the ball long into the box.
The ball hit Liam Roberts’ crossbar on his right, caught the Saddlers’ keeper and narrowly crossed the line - it was a spectacular goal, fortuitous or not.
And Stafford would extend their lead three minutes later as WESTWOOD sprang the offside trap from a through ball from midfield, taking the ball into the box and finishing low past the Saddlers' stopper.
The Saddlers threatened towards the end of the first half with Sangha’s effort deflecting wide and Candlin narrowly missing a low cross from Shorrock, under pressure from Kieran Morris.
Shorrock would fire narrowly over the bar three minutes after the restart and Peters had a goal disallowed in the 55th minute, turning home Hayles-Docherty’s low centre from the right but being denied by the assistant’s flag.
And Stafford would make it 3-0 two minutes later, BATCHELOR heading the ball into the ground from a corner and past Liam Roberts.
CANDLIN’S powerful low effort after 71 minutes was not undeserved as the young side kept working the ball neatly across midfield, and 10 minutes later CANDLIN had his second with a simple finish from close range after good work from Fisher on the right.
Hayles-Docherty was a major threat throughout for the Saddlers and put several promising balls in, but Walsall were narrowly unable to turn it home for an equaliser.
Once again, the Saddlers got vital minutes in the legs and this young side were given a stringent test against step three Stafford.
SADDLERS: L Roberts; Tonks, K Roberts (capt), Vann (Fisher 46’), Cockerill-Mollett; Hayles-Docherty, Sangha, Butterfield, Shorrock; Peters (Mason 75’), Candlin.