Walsall 1-0 Preston North End
Walsall Under-18s continued their winning streak with an assured victory over Preston North End in the EFL Youth Alliance.
A third consecutive win and clean sheet was secured with an excellent Kyle Sharp goal and some solid defending from Young Saddlers.
Walsall had several gilded chances to kill the game off in the second half including Jayden Campbell’s saved penalty, making for a tense finish in Great Barr.
Miguel Llera’s side have characterised themselves with high-pressing and a fast tempo in the opening 15 minutes of matches and once again they were rewarded with a goal for their strategy.
Sharp applied the clinical finish one-on-one with Oliver Lombard, sending the onrushing goalkeeper the wrong way, but it was a goal made by a piece of brilliance from Ronan Maher.
Wrestling his marker off the ball, the midfielder turned from brutish to beautiful football, lifting his head swiftly to curl a wonderful diagonal pass between the centre halves and into Sharp’s path.
The reaction of Maher was enough to tell you he was pleased with his efforts and his teammates ran over to congratulate him for creating the breakthrough against EFL Youth Alliance highflyers Preston.
Minutes later, the Young Lilywhites reminded Walsall of their attacking threat when Joe Rodwell-Grant was denied a headed goal from point blank range by Lewis Walker’s reflex save.
After half-time, the game had become very feisty and fluidity had disappeared into a number of fouls, leading to a couple of yellow cards for each side.
Eventually, Young Saddlers regained their grip on the match and were awarded a penalty when the ball struck the arm of Teddy Mfuni.
Campbell stepped up and was matched by Lombard who guessed correctly to keep some hope alive for the visitors.
Walsall still piled on extra pressure for the two-goal cushion.
Maher could have added a goal to his excellent display when he headed wide at the back post from a precise Josh Simcox delivery and Sharp was unlucky not to get a second when he half-volleyed a rocket off the post from range.
Jack Lynch, Joe Foulkes, Alex Worley and Simcox defended superbly to close out the final minutes and take all three points.
Llera was delighted with the win and hoped that the strong performances could see some of the Under-18s feature in the First Team’s final League Two matches now safety is assured:
“It was a very solid performance against one of the best oppositions in the league.
“The first half we started quite well – It was an unbelievable pass from RAM [Ronan Maher] and a good finish from Kyle Sharp.
“If we score the pen the game is over but defending the 1-0 was great experience for them.
“We have to maintain the standard really high just in case Brian [Dutton] decides to give them the chance to be involved with the squad in the spare two games.
“The lads are doing everything they can. They are winning games and performing well collectively.
“[I am] pleased for the subs. They came on and pushed the team hard and balanced the game.
“We decided to keep the same team who have been performing well and winning games. and it made the lads on the bench work harder and credit to them for that.”