Walsall boss Darrell Clarke praised his team’s fitness and defensive solidity after Saturday’s clash with Sheffield Wednesday in the Carabao Cup.
The Saddlers held the Championship side to a goalless draw before falling short in the penalty shootout.
Clarke was still in a positive mood despite the cup exit and was particularly impressed with the defensive display and the fitness levels of the team.
“The fitness levels of the lads, work rate and the way we defended, I thought was outstanding,” said Clarke.
“Against a very decent team in Sheffield Wednesday who are a lot higher up the pyramid than us, testament to the players.
“It’s our first competitive game in 182 days and they deserve a massive pat on the back. So does my strength and conditioning coach Mark Bradley, because he has put a lot of work and graft into making sure the fitness levels of the lads are good.
“The lads are disappointed missing the penalties, Josh and Alfie, but they shouldn’t be disappointed in their work rate and performance.
“In the course of the game we had a couple opportunities, with the transition of the ball, if we looked after it better, we could have hurt them.
“We defended superbly and made it very difficult for Sheffield Wednesday to break us down.”
Clarke is pleased with how his squad is shaping up and feels the team are well balanced for the upcoming league campaign.
The Saddlers boss has been particularly impressed by Zak Jules who slotted in at left-back against the Owls and feel he and new boy George Nurse will provide each other with strong competition.
"He's had an outstanding pre-season, a really good, strong pre-season,” Clarke commented.
"As have the majority of the boys to be honest with you.
"Competition for places is good, you've seen Nursey when he came on, he has really good attributes as well.
"We have a decent balance within the squad. It's early days yet but we're looking forward to the challenges ahead.”
The Saddlers travel to Darrell Clarke’s former club Bristol Rovers in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday (8th September) evening.