Young Saddlers made it three wins from three in the EFL Youth Alliance as they overcame Oldham Athletic 2-0 writes Louis Mitchell.
Quickfire finishes from Tommy Parker and Jayden Campbell early in the second half secured all three points for Walsall whilst Luke Zona and his defensive cohort stood strong to maintain a clean sheet.
Victory gives Miguel Llera’s side maximum points and an impressive record of nine goals scored and only one conceded in three matches.
Walsall got off to a good start in the opening minutes and should have taken the lead when Ade Francis made his characteristic sprint in behind, latching on to a precise ball from Joe Foulkes. Oldham keeper Kacper Danielewcz rushed out but was marooned in no man’s land when Francis arrived at the ball only to miscue a chip wide of the goal.
Saif Mukadam and Campbell were thorns in the Latics’ side for much of the game and they linked up smartly for the latter to find space in the box early on. Campbell – who has been given a first team squad number by Darrell Clarke this season – dinked the ball over Danielewcz who had dived at his feet.
The winger’s shot was goal bound if it had not been for Oldham defender Andrew Baker’s anticipation, sprinting back and heading clear off the line.
A minute later, Mukadam had his opportunity to hurt the visitors. Almost a carbon copy of Francis’ chance minutes before, Foulkes picked out Mukadam who lofted his shot over the keeper, but unfortunately cleared the crossbar as well.
Oldham were limited to a couple of half chances from Kane Badby as Walsall sat firmly on top in the run up to half time. Llera demanded higher intensity out of his players from the side-line and it was Mukadam and Campbell that answered as they unlocked Oldham once more.
Intricate interplay from Young Saddlers helped Campbell speed to the by-line and pull back to tee Mukadam’s strike from six-yards out, taking a flying Oldham block to keep Walsall out before half time.
Dominant in the first half but without a lead, Llera made two changes as Tommy Parker and Ben Dallywaters replaced Francis and Samim Sarvari.
Within 10 minutes, Parker smashed Young Saddlers into the lead.
Again, Danielewcz was caught in a poor position as Parker and his marker chased down a ball over the top. The keeper was caught in two minds and left a section off the goal open as Parker took aim and struck sweetly first time, clattering into the top corner off the upright.
Llera’s substitution had worked and Young Saddlers were invigorated.
Just five minutes later, the game was taken away from the visitors as Walsall doubled their lead.
A brilliant training ground corner routine came off as Foulkes ran short and flicked the low, driven cross into the six-yard box. Mukadam shot onto the bar in the ensuing scramble which deflected kindly to Campbell who made a difficult finish look easy with his acrobatics.
With Oldham rocked, the game got feisty – Campbell went into the book for two late challenges and both teams were involved in a scuffle before the referee calmed things down.
Oldham put some nice phases of play together before full time, but Young Saddlers’ defence continued their excellent form and secured three points to put Walsall on top of the Youth Alliance North West.
Head Coach Llera was pleased with a strong performance from his side:
“It was a solid performance. We controlled the game really well in the first half; the only difference was that we could not score.
“I told them at half time: ‘carry on pushing yourself, do exactly the same we have been doing’
“We did a couple of substitutions in the second half and we scored two early goals.”
A strong defender himself in his playing days, the Spaniard also had praise for his team’s work ethic and defensive stability:
“We say defending is not all about the back four, it is about the whole team.
“Everyone who plays is defending really hard from the top with a really high press.
“This is the way that we are looking to play.”