Walsall U18s were condemned to an unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Carlisle U18s, despite a positive second half display.
An own-goal by Dominic Rogerson in the early stages followed by Liam Lightfoot’s back-post header was enough to provide the visitors with all three points.
Alex McSkeane pulled one back late on for the Saddlers, but it was nothing more than a consolation goal unfortunately.
After a tense opening ten minutes, it was a quick double blow from Carlisle that hurt the Saddlers.
A long ball over the top of the Reds defence seemingly looked comfortable for Rogerson, however his control unfortunately let him down as the ball agonisingly trickled into the open net to give the visitors an early advantage.
Charlie Birch‘s left-footed corner just three minutes later caused further problems for our defensive rear-guard. Lightfoot’s header was eventually bundled over the line after his original effort smashed against the crossbar to double Carlisle’s advantage.
The Saddlers responded positively following the second goal as they began to settle into the game. McSkeane created space for himself wonderfully on the edge of the Cumbrian’s penalty area however his vicious strike was directed narrowly over the crossbar.
The away side were a threat going forward throughout the half. It could have been three before the break but, a brilliant intervention from Sam Leivesley denied Birch from close range. The right-back’s critical block was followed by an impressive save from Rogerson to keep Walsall in the game going into the second 45.
The Saddlers looked a different side in the second half as they looked to respond.
Substitute Jayden Campbell entered the field at the interval and almost made an immediate impact.
The wide man slalomed through numerous challenges superbly, however his strike at goal was well-stopped by Regan Ward in the Carlisle goal.
Joe Willis’ excellent wide delivery from a set-piece found McSkeane but, his smart touch drifted just wide of Ward’s right-hand post.
Ade Francis, Graham Biggs’ second substitution of the afternoon, also sprung new life into the Saddlers. His fine delivery was headed once more narrowly over by McSkeane as Walsall continued to knock on the door.
The Saddlers deservedly got themselves back into it on the 75th minute mark, the very least their second-half pressure merited.
Owen Nolan burst into the attacking third before his drive was parried by Ward, however substitute Francis found McSkeane with the rebound and the latter’s effort deflected in to give the hosts hope.
Callum Nimo and Sam Perry in the closing stages had efforts that went narrowly wide as the Sadlers searched for a deserved equaliser.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for Biggs’ side as they suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat.
Biggs was frustrated with the result but found positives from an encouraging second half display.
“Frustration sums it up really,” said Biggs. “Carlisle scored the first goal which wasn’t even a shot. It’s a long ball from their defence, I’m not sure why the keeper didn’t deal with it, it has hit a horrific bobble and just rolled into the net.
“All of us from the side was amazed. I think it shook us a little bit truthfully.
“We continued to play football without really creating anything clear cut.
“They hit us with the second goal then. I couldn’t see it clearly, but it really took us out of our sails.”
Biggs was able to find some positives to take away from the game though.
“I made a tactical substitution at half-time, changing the system to 4-4-2,” Biggs continued.
“I thought we controlled the second half and were unlucky not to add to more than the one we scored.
“There was no question of work rate however we looked to add more quality from the first half and improve our decision-making. I thought that showed in the second half.
“I thought two massive positives were the substitutions, they made a massive impact to the game.
“Jayden Campbell came on and I thought he tore them ragged, I thought he was excellent.
“Ade Francis came on up top and I thought he caused them problems. He harried and fought for every ball and helped set-up the goal.
“I thought both of them were positives for the team and the club going forward.”