Walsall Under-18s put in an impressive performance despite suffering a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Blackpool.
Every on-target Tangerine attempt was netted, putting the young Saddlers four goals to nil down with half an hour remaining.
Despite the deficit, the home side showed great fight to get back into the game. Goals from Tyreece Ruddock and Luke Little, either side of a peculiar red card for Blackpool’s Tom Williams, made the final minutes tense as the visitors defended deep.
Saddlers boss Graham Biggs described the match as “bizarre,” a statement that was difficult to contest.
Dominating the opening actions, Walsall enjoyed an encouraging spell. Slick passing and high pressure created a couple of half chances early on.
The Saddlers were untroubled until Emil Jaaskelainen’s precise cross dropped onto the head of Andy Kanga after 10 minutes. The midfielder’s header was deftly flicked, drifting inside Ethan Dawe’s far post.
Stunned momentarily, the young Saddlers took time to regain their footing. Jayden Campbell was presented with the best opportunity of the first half to pull one back, but didn’t catch the strike cleanly.
Following another good spell for Walsall, on 33 minutes, winger Will McGladdery found space on the left side. He crossed low and hard across the six-yard-box to plate up the simplest of finishes.
Towering striker Ewan Bange calmly touched the ball home from four yards, doubling Blackpool’s lead.
Four minutes later, the game looked out of reach when Jaaskelainen added a third. A heavy clash left Joe Willis injured and resulted in a Blackpool free-kick.
Jaaskelainen stepped forward, curling a sweet right footed shot to the bottom left, perfectly placed around the Walsall wall with Dawe left stranded.
Three down at the break, the second half was a real testament to young Saddlers’ determination.
Eight minutes in however, Blackpool took the game further away, adding a fourth.
Sean Graham’s thunderous effort smashed the crossbar before Kanga stormed in to secure his brace with the follow up.
Down but not out, Biggs made a double substitution to turn the fixture in favour of Walsall as Jacob Walton and Ruddock came on for Jayden Campbell and Alex McSkeane.
Instantly impacting the game, Ruddock troubled defenders with his pace. Tom Williams cynically scythed down Ruddock as he burst into a promising attack, picking up a yellow card.
Blackpool could not keep him quiet for long. Super-substitute Ruddock had been on the pitch five minutes when he skilfully managed to pull one back, giving the reds a glimmer of hope.
Latching on to a well-placed long ball, Ruddock still had much to do. He beat the defender for pace and sped into the box. Blackpool keeper Charlie Monks rushed out of goal but the forward lifted the ball over him from a tight angle.
Seconds later, Blackpool’s Williams decided to hold the ball and prevent Walsall from kicking off quickly, forcing the referee into showing him a second yellow card.
Reduced to 10 men, the Tangerines were on the back foot.
Guilt-edged opportunities came and went as Walton miscued Walsall’s next chance. Leaning back, he perhaps should have scored from 12 yards, but the ball was struck despairingly over.
Minutes later, another chance fell the way of Walton.
He does better with this attempt, but finds it blocked by two defenders who had scrambled to the line. The rebound gratefully dropped to Luke Little who placed the ball high into the middle of the goal to make it 2-4.
With 20 minutes to go, renewed optimism was injected into what had been an insurmountable task at 0-4.
The young Saddlers pressed but couldn’t force a third goal against Blackpool’s all-out defence.
Biggs was rightly pleased with his side, although they couldn’t quite come back.
“It is a strange thing to say but it was a really good performance. A really poor result but a really good performance.
“We started very well. We tried to pass the ball around. We were in control probably for the first 10-15 minutes,” Biggs added.
“We had a right go and got a couple of goals. It went chance after chance and we could not get the third or fourth.
“What I was pleased about is that the boys actually kept going and kept trying to do the right things.”
He had praise for impact substitute Ruddock and the whole team for their development.
Biggs said: “Tyreece came on and made a massive impact on the game so I was really pleased for him.
“His attitude and his endeavour were spot on.
“The boys are developing, playing decent football but we just do not seem to be able to get a couple of back-to-back wins.”