An inspirational Ade Francis grabbed a goal and an assist as Walsall Under-18s cruised to a 3-0 victory against Rochdale in the EFL Youth Alliance writes Jack Dawson.
Amazingly, the dominant display was Young Saddlers’ first competitive game for six months since COVID-19 cut the season short in March.
Man of the match Francis was more than happy to be out playing again after such a lengthy layoff.
Speaking with a smile after the behind closed doors game at Birmingham County FA headquarters, the striker said: “It was great to be back on the pitch, after a long lockdown.
“I felt like pre-season helped; in training the manager is speaking to me, telling me what I need to do in games and obviously it paid off. I just need to keep it up.”
Francis got the opening goal when he used his electric pace to gather a long ball, nipping in-between defender and goalkeeper to flick Walsall into the lead.
His influence on the game didn’t stop there as his dribbling skills and vision helped spot Romani Stephens who finished the game off at 3-0.
Talking about his role in the goals, he said: “I knew they were slow from watching them in the first couple of minutes, so I thought I’d use my pace and get in front.
“I tried to get across the defenders and the angle was tight because I was going to shoot so I thought I would cut back, see who is there, sit up a cross and it turned into a goal.”
Keeping fit was arguably the most difficult challenge for a footballer in lockdown and Francis believes that the club’s programmes helped to keep the squad ready for the return of football.
“There was a lot of fitness, getting down the park doing extra runs and obviously the gym as well – that helped.
“I had a few one-to-one sessions with the personal trainer and [I was] sticking to the Walsall programme as well. Obviously, you are doing extra when you are not doing that programme.
“We had a few runs – 4Ks, 5Ks, and 6Ks – to do on different days and there was a gym programme as well that had to be done which helped.”
Head coach Miguel Llera was also pleased with the performance by his team after such a long break and shared his striker’s sentiment about the return of Under-18s football:
“I am very happy with the three goals and a clean sheet,” he said.
“I cannot be mad at any mistakes today because we are still working back towards fitness.
“It’s been a long time, but it’s great to be back. It has been hard working from the office and not coaching.”