Walsall Under-18s put in a battling display at home to Morecambe in the EFL Youth Alliance, but they came up just short in a heated contest at Ray Hall Lane.
Callum Sandle and Jamie Nicholson scored either side of a scrappy goal from Ronan Maher to give the visitors the points. This result follows Walsall’s first win of the season against Tranmere last time out, but it was another strong showing from the young Saddlers.
Despite Walsall dominating the early exchanges, it was Morecambe that struck first. In just the fifth minute of the game, Connor Pye, who recently signed a professional contract with The Shrimps, took on Josh Simcox down their left wing and beat him. He was able to get a low ball across the face of goal for Callum Sandle to stab home. It was an unfortunate goal for the Saddlers to concede, but they responded well.
Not long after the goal, Maher showed quick feet to beat his marker and spray a pass out wide to Piers Juliff. The midfielder then cut inside, looking to get on the end of Juliff’s pass across the face of goal, but George Pedley was just quicker to the ball.
From there, the first half was largely devoid of chances. However, Walsall was able to control the game well in midfield thanks to aggressive tackling from Harry Manton and Marvellous Onabirekhanlen. While the Saddlers had to be patient for their chances, they were able to restrict the visitors to pot-shots and set pieces for most of the half.
Even with the good work in midfield from Manton and Onabirekhanlen, the stand out man for the Saddlers was Alex Worley. While his defensive work kept the Morecambe attackers at bay, it was a marauding run out from the skipper that gave the breakthrough.
Worley won the ball on the halfway line and charged forward, but a defender was able to clear out for a throw-in. However, Juliff took the throw quickly, playing it back to Worley who fired a low ball across goal. Maher was there to chest the ball into the net to pull Walsall deservedly level at half-time.
Morecambe struck back soon after play resumed, however. Some smart forward play from Nathan Mercer allowed the midfielder to play a pass out to the left. A looping ball was sent over Tommy Jackson and into the path of Jamie Nicholson, who had an easy task to fire home.
Walsall looked somewhat shell-shocked after the goal, which saw Morecambe control the start of the second half. Maher did his best to drive Walsall forward and picked up a succession of free kicks in midfield, but it wasn’t enough to find a quick leveller.
The hosts had three big chances in the final quarter to secure a result, two of which fell to Maher. The first came in the 65th minute following a ball in from Walsall’s right wing. It seemed simple for Pedley to control, but he spilled it. Both Maher and Callum Derry went for the ball, but two defenders retreated into the box and just about helped Pedley recover.
With 15 minutes remaining, Worley went on yet another run out from defence and found himself near the by-line. In a near-exact copy of the first goal, he fired a ball across the ground for Maher to latch on to, but the midfielder was a fraction of a second too slow to slide home. Harry Manton also came close from range, but his effort went just over.
The game went into nine minutes of injury time following a late brawl in the box. Both Maher and Pye were given their marching orders late on.
It was a battling performance from Ben King’s side with plenty of positives to take into coming fixtures. The Saddlers will look to continue their upwards momentum at home to Port Vale on 29 January.
Professional Development Phase Coach King spoke positively about his team’s performance after the game and expressed how pleased he was with their recent progress.
"In the first half we had more of the possession, more of the chances and it was the same in the second half," he said.
"We went more direct in the second half as we were chasing the game.
"We had two that were saved on the line, another that went right across goal. We had chance after chance, but it didn’t fall our way.
“In terms of performance, we’re quite happy. It’s more about switching on with those little things and continuing to create chances.”