Walsall Under 18’s made it third time lucky against Shrewsbury Town Under 18’s on Saturday afternoon as they eased past their counterparts with an emphatic 5-0 win thanks to goals from Dylan Parker, Joe Cairns and a hat-trick from the impressive Mitchel Candlin.
It took Graham Biggs’ side less than 10 minutes to get themselves on the scoresheet. Following some great build-up play on the right between Ben Friel and Candlin, advancing midfielder Friel played the ball back across goal for Parker to open the scoring.
And as the half hour mark ticked over on the clock, the young Saddlers side doubled their lead with Candlin getting the first of his three goals. After a left-wing corner was met at the back post by Ben Kendrick, Candlin found himself in the right place at the right time to smash home the ball.
With less than 15 minutes left to play, Candlin grabbed his second of the afternoon and put himself in contention for goal of the season. After some tenacious work down the left by full-back Cody Fisher, his chipped pull back was met by Candlin who opened his body up and volleyed home into the top right corner with aplomb.
No more than 40 seconds later and the Saddlers made it four, this time through substitute Cairns who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes. Parker was released down the right flank and his unselfish lay-off was met by Cairns who saw his effort crawl over the line to extend the lead further.
And with just over five minutes of play left, Candlin helped himself to a third goal, as Cairns turned provider for his counterpart. Another cross from the left found the striker unmarked in the box and his powerful header left the Town goalkeeper stranded, meaning that the rout was complete.
After the game, manager Biggs was keen to express his delight that hat-trick hero Candlin is now back on the right track and admitted that his goal scoring antics certainly haven’t done him any harm.
“We have had lots of chats about Mitch in the last few weeks regarding his development as a player.
“He has been in a funny position this season with him being involved in three squads, the first team, the Under-23s and of course the Under-18s and I think he lost his way a little bit in being moved around.
“We have had a chat with him and the new gaffer has come in and he has wanted him to train with the Under-18s and play with the 18s as well and he has found his form again which got him his pro-contract.
“His work rate was excellent in the match and his overall team play was outstanding. Not only did he get himself three goals but he was involved in the other two as well which is very encouraging. He was just thinking about scoring goals, he was thinking about assists as well and that’s a good thing.
“His work rate without the ball is getting better and ultimately that will make him into a better player.
“With the first team struggling on the goal front at the moment, hopefully he will be in the manager’s thoughts heading into their final three games of the season.
“With the three goals he has scored in this game, he certainly hasn’t done himself any harm that’s for sure.”
It wasn't just the three-goal striker that Biggs was impressed with, though. With four frontmen working seamlessly off each other at the moment, Biggs revealed that rotation is the key to their new-found success.
He continued: “We have worked tirelessly on getting our front three right and having the option to rotate them in game is a tool that we like to have.
“What we have been saying is that if someone is being marked out of a game by a defender then the front three can switch around to make it more difficult for the opposition.
“We have to look at these changes as a strength and not a weakness because the opposition then have something different to focus on and that’s a good thing.
“The four strikers that we have on offer at the moment are all individual players and I spoke once more with the first team gaffer this week and spoke about their importance and what they offer as individuals.
“We have four different types of strikers and it showed in the game that they all offer different things and that can only help us move forward.”