Walsall Under 18s bowed out of the FA Youth Cup on penalties to Port Vale at the Banks's Stadium writes Andrew Maddox.
It was a valiant performance from the Saddlers, who spent much of the game with 10 men after Thomas Cox was dismissed. The hosts defended marvellously to keep Vale at bay, but Jack Collinge produced three saves in the shootout to send the visitors through.
The match started with both sides looking nervy. Neither team was able to dominate the midfield and get any meaningful time on the ball.
However, the visitors came close to taking the lead on seven minutes courtesy of a pot shot from Tommy McDermott. The midfielder tried his luck from range and his tame shot was spilled by Zach Hedge. Only a perfectly timed tackle from Noel Angafor denied Vale a certain goal.
Port Vale grew in confidence from there, but it was Walsall who struck first. Antonio Cristofaro received the ball on the edge of Vale’s box and opted to have a shot rather than pass. It should have been a routine save for Joe Collinge, but he let the shot slip underneath him and trundle on into the net.
After looking shaky for ten minutes after the goal, Vale were able to recover and grow back into the game. James Plant looked the most threatening, beating Daniel Baldwin and flashing a pass across goal, only for it to be blocked again by Angafor.
On the 30-minute mark, Thomas Cox gave a soft ball away to Kamani McFarlane on the edge of his own box. The defender panicked and hacked down the striker as he charged through and was duly dismissed. Plant nearly made Walsall pay from the resulting free kick, seeing his shot clatter out off the post.
Miguel Llera introduced Rio Sawyers after the red card, replacing Cristofaro. From here, Walsall limited Vale to pot shots from range as they defended their own box well. Both Plant and Rhys Walters came close from these, but both shots bent into the gloves of Hedge.
Port Vale made their advantage count soon after the restart. A cross came in from Vale’s left wing and captain Ellis Jones got a glancing header before Hedge could get there. The game got scrappier from there, with Durrel Manhertz and Callum Derry both picking up bookings.
The visitors spurned a golden chance to go ahead on the hour mark after Hedge spilled a low shot from Plant. The ball broke in the area but Angafor made yet another heroic block to deny Vale. Despite their resistance nearly being broken for a second time, Walsall continued to defend valiantly.
Both Sawyers and Angafor put in heroic performances as the Saddlers continued to ride the relentless pressure from Vale. Marvellous Onabirekhanlen was introduced alongside Shay Willock in the second half and the pair caused the Vale defence headaches towards the end of the match.
However, neither side could quite find a finish during the 90 minutes. Noel Angafor came close with a header in added time, but it ended up in the hands of the ‘keeper so the match came down to extra time.
Extra time however failed to give either side a goal. Onabirekhanlen came closest in the 93rd minute, seeing his shot zip just over the bar, but it wasn’t enough, and the game headed for penalties.
Sawyers, Onabirekhanlen and Jack Shaw all saw penalties saved in the shootout, while Zach Hedge made a single save of his own. It was nevertheless a fantastic performance, who now return to league action.