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Match Report: Walsall U18s 1-1 Tranmere U18s

28 February 2022

Walsall Under 18s continued their recent improvement under Ben King with a battling draw at home to Tranmere Rovers.

Ronan Maher’s second-half goal was enough to secure a point for The Saddlers, cancelling out Max Fisher’s opener. It was yet another promising display from Walsall as they fought tooth and nail to grind out the result.

The opening exchanges of the first half were largely uneventful, with both sides struggling to properly take charge of the match. There was one early scare for The Saddlers as Jamie Timlin pick-pocketed Josh Simcox, but the hosts managed to recover and clear. The first good chance of the match fell to Maher who, after securing a short pass from Callum Derry, spun and fired a wicked looping shot on goal. However, James Dineley was equal to it and pulled out a fine save.

Walsall began to stamp their authority on the match towards the half-hour mark as Shay Willock stretched the Tranmere defence and forced a succession of corners. While none of them led to a second chance for the hosts, they were keeping Tranmere pinned back.

Rovers rode out the barrage of corners and forced their way back into the game in the final ten minutes of the half. Max Fisher had their first chance as his deflected shot went agonisingly wide of Zach Hedge’s far post. Tranmere came close again from the resulting corner. After penalty appeals were waved away, the ball was cleared to Sam Taylor who fired narrowly wide.

Fisher again sought to threaten the Walsall goal five minutes before the break as he made a darting run past several defenders into the box. Unfortunately for him, he ran into Rio Sawyers who managed to clear his lines.

It wouldn’t be long before Tranmere made their pressure pay off, however. Just seconds before the interval, Timlin pick-pocketed Oliver Jones inside the Walsall box. Hedge managed to save his shot, but he could only parry it out to Taylor who fired into the gaping net.

The hosts responded well in the second half as they looked to press the Tranmere defence and be more aggressive. Willock especially panicked the visitors, though he nearly found himself in trouble with a few quick fouls after getting booked, but he managed to keep his place.

One player who arguably should have been sent off was Tranmere ‘keeper James Dineley. With Willock bearing down on him, he got into a mix-up with Dom Cain and the ball appeared to strike his arm outside of the area. However, the referee gave nothing despite Walsall’s protests. Immediately after, Hedge made a fine double save to keep Walsall in the game.

At long last, Walsall found their breakthrough in the 66th minute. Callum Derry latched onto a great ball out from defence and charged down on Dineley’s goal, but the ‘keeper made the save. In an exact repeat of the first goal, he could only parry it to Ronan Maher who graciously stabbed home.

The longer the game wore on, the scrappier it got. Both sides picked up bookings for late or professional fouls as they sought to deny their opponents a winner by any means necessary. Tranmere came closest to finding a winner after substitute Rory Regan lost the ball in the box, but the defence managed to recover and clear.

It was another promising display from The Saddlers who continued their upwards trajectory of recent weeks. Their next fixture is back at Ray Hall Lane on 12 March as they take on Shrewsbury Town.

After the match, Professional Development Phase Coach Ben King praised the reaction of his players after going a goal behind while also outlining how happy he is with recent performances.

He said: “What was nice is we conceded the goal just before half-time and we went in, the lads led the discussion at half-time in terms of what they thought the problems were and what the game plan should be in the second half.

“We said we needed to play a bit more of our game, play a bit shorter and work the ball up the pitch. We had that reaction and that’s why we won the second half 1-0 and chased another couple of chances in there as well.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the reaction because earlier in the season we would’ve lost that game.

"Since we played them earlier in the season, we’ve won one, drawn three and lost two. One loss was really close and there was one spanner in the works there but overall, recent performances have been much stronger.”

King also singled out Ronan Maher for his improvement in training and recent goalscoring form.

“He’s done really well,” King added.

“We’re delighted with Ronan. We’ve been working on his right foot, and he made a couple of longer passes and scored the goal with his right foot.”

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