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Under-18s: Walsall 1-3 Preston

24 September 2018

Walsall Under-18s suffered a disappointing 3-1 defeat in their Youth Alliance fixture at home against Preston North End.

The scoreline was harsh on the Saddlers, who initially led through Owen Nolan midway through the second half.

But two goals in as many minutes - one from skipper Jack Baxter and another from creative midfielder Tyrhys Dolan - turned the game on its head.

Dolan scored again late on, aided by a cruel handling error by Josh Griffiths, to end Walsall’s hopes of salvaging a point. 

A damp and blustery morning at Birmingham County FA headquarters meant uneasy conditions for the players.

Early link-up play between Kian Flanagan and full-back Luke Little looked promising as Walsall attempted to stretch the travelling Preston players.

In a half of few gilt-edged opportunities and resolute defending by both outfits, Sam Perry was the standout player, making two vital blocks to keep Walsall level at the break.

The second period began more optimistically for Walsall. Perry Moss turned in a cross on the hour mark but was judged to be marginally offside.

For the first time, Walsall were in the ascendancy and were rewarded for their efforts when Joe Brown’s through ball was cut out by a stretching Preston defender, only to squirm into the path of the charging Owen Nolan.

The keeper was rooted as Nolan rocketed a left-footed shot high into James Cottam’s near post.

Nolan’s goal injected life into Preston, who took less than ten minutes to reply, when the Saddlers were still sleeping on their one-nil cushion.

First, a cut-back from the byline after a set-piece rolled to the feet of skipper Jack Baxter, who smashed a left-footed shot across goal through a crowded penalty area into the top corner.

Moments later, Dolan lost his marker and flicked a pacey cross at Griffiths’ near post which he could not quite keep out of the corner.

Preston made two late substitutions to hold their lead although Walsall looked to have a very strong penalty appeal when Joe Willis’ mazy run into the box was ended by a Preston defender but the referee waved it away.

Preston counter-attacked, leaving Walsall stretched and Dolan in space to strike a speculative effort from distance.

Keeper Griffiths, who had done well up until this point, allowed the wet ball to slip through his despairing fingers and into the net.

Academy Manager Graham Biggs was disappointed with the result but encouraged by his side’s showing.

“If I am honest, I think the scoreline flattered Preston," he said. "I don't think it was a 3-1 and I thought we did really well for 60 minutes.

“We made a few changes with our shape for the second half and were more compact. We probably had better chances and deservedly took the lead.

"But unfortunately, at the moment, the boys just don't know how to manage games. Part of their learning curve is game management and understanding.

“I don’t think you can work in training on game management, that comes through experience of playing games. We need to work on the good things that we are doing and keep working on them.”

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