Walsall Under-18s finally ended their losing run with a battling draw against Shrewsbury Town in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup.
It was a much-improved performance from Miguel Llera’s side and in truth, The Saddlers’ play merited more than a single goal.
The visitors started the game quickly, pressing Walsall aggressively and drawing fouls early in the game. A free kick in the second minute had to be cleared twice by the hosts after the rebound was put into a dangerous area.
However, Walsall quickly responded to this early pressure. The Saddlers dominated the early exchanges from here, causing trouble for Shrewsbury with quick transitional play. The linkup on the left wing between Josh Simcox and Antonio Cristofaro continually spun The Shrews full backs. Quick one-two passes between the pair saw them play around the defenders as if they weren’t even there.
After a scare where Salop came close with an overhead kick from close range, Walsall fired back through Will Uchenna. The powerful striker danced past several defenders and floated a teasing ball in towards the back post, but it just evaded the woodwork.
The hosts forced another chance three minutes later. Walsall used their dominance of the left wing and found Cristofaro on the edge of the box. He showed some quick feet to find space for a shot, but his effort was parried out for a corner by Rhys Thompson.
Walsall’s best chance came from this corner. A cross was arrowed in towards Rio Sawyers who directed his header down, but Thompson was there to make a fine save. At this point, The Saddlers were in full control of the game and were deeply unlucky not to be ahead.
From here however, Shrewsbury were able to grow more into the game. They posed a considerable threat with Demi Akinwe charging up from left back as well as long balls fired towards Louis Lloyd and Jenson Cooper. One of these long balls forced Zach Hedge to panic and charge off his line, bringing down Lloyd and getting himself booked.
The hosts just about shaded a very even first half, but it took less than a minute into the second half for them to take the lead. Straight from kick off, The Saddlers charged down the right wing and arrowed in a perfect cross towards goal. Ronan Maher was there to head past a despairing ‘keeper to give Walsall the lead.
However, the lead would be short lived as Salop equalised less than 20 minutes later. Following a few bad misses from Cooper, Josh Barlow finally struck gold for the visitors with a low shot that ricocheted in off the post.
This result marks the first time Walsall have avoided defeat this season, ending a run of nine consecutive defeats this season. The Saddlers will now look to push on and put their difficult run behind them.
Manager Miguel Llera praised his players after the match, singling out their desire and aggression.
“For me, the difference was the passion we put in today,” he said.
“I told them ‘What you have done today is competing properly and what you were doing before wasn’t good enough’.”
“I think we competed better because it was a big game for the lads. Our job now is to do that consistently.”
Picture by Sophie Grew