Walsall Under-18s’ performance was encouraging despite falling to a 2-0 defeat against Wrexham.
A surprise early goal from Kyle Robinson-Murray set the tone in a frustrating first half before Cameron McGregor doubled the away side’s advantage from the penalty spot.
Young Saddlers played some good football – exhibiting clear improvement in attack – spreading the ball and heaping pressure onto Wrexham.
Walsall were desperately unlucky to finish the game without a goal, let alone a point. Tyreece Ruddock had the pick of the chances midway through the second half but skewed his effort.
On a morning that brightened into unseasonal sunshine, it was the home side that needed warming up.
Inside two minutes, the visitors led after hounding Walsall’s defence into an uncharacteristic error.
Alfie Bates received the ball under pressure and fizzed a misjudged pass to Dominic Rogerson in goal. The keeper would have done well to control the ball and could only block it into the three onrushing Wrexham forwards.
Rogerson tightened the angle enough to force the first shot onto the post, however the rebound dropped generously into the path of Robinson-Murray who gratefully finished into an empty net.
Plenty of Walsall’s improvement was evident after the early setback. Joe Willis – who returned to the fray from suspension – and Bates spread the ball across the midfield effectively, utilising Danny Coogan and Ruddock on the wings, building persistent attacks.
Kian Flanagan was the first beneficiary of such attacks, finding himself in space to shoot just outside the Wrexham penalty area. A promising sign for Young Saddlers, although his shot dragged wide.
A period of sustained pressure led to a string of corners as Walsall attempted to overturn the deficit. Alex McSkeane, who Wrexham largely stifled in this fixture, was kept from his usual threatening display, but did manage to give The Dragons a scare when his volley flew over the bar.
After 35 minutes, with frustration building for the home side as they searched for an equaliser, Wrexham struck again. Sam Perry scrambled back to make a slide tackle on the edge of the penalty area but misjudged his attempt and brought down the forward.
McGregor did the honours and dispatched his penalty down the middle.
Two goals down at the interval, Kyle Kirby’s side came out with attacking intent in the face of a defensive Wrexham side.
Sam Perry had an excellent chance to pull one back just five minutes into the half after finding himself on the end of a cross, but the deputising full-back headed over.
Two minutes later, Young Saddlers had their best chance of the game to pull a goal back.
The Dragons’ shot-stopper Ben Tinkley misjudged the flight of a long ball which fell into the path of Ruddock who had an open goal from an acute angle. Pursued by defenders, the winger had to shoot quickly causing his effort to angle wide.
It was a tale of elusive end product for Young Saddlers as Wrexham held out the remaining minutes to take three points back to Wales.
Kyle Kirby was pleased with the attacking showing despite the result: “We played with a freedom of expression in the final third. We have managed to sustain attacks a lot more than we have previously. The boys have looked to play with style and have done well.
“Result wise, really disappointing for all the effort and how the lads have gone about the game.
“You can’t give teams at this level a head start, we have to eradicate that very quickly.
“We have had chances to get back into the game. If we had taken one of the three it would have been a different game, but it wasn’t to be.”