Walsall Under 18s suffered late heartbreak after they fell to an agonising 4-3 defeat against Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park.
The Saddlers had to play for over half of the game with 10-men after Linton Chakki was shown a second yellow card late in the first half.
In a crazy game, Oldham opened the scoring after 19 minutes but Walsall responded almost immediately through Marvellous Onabirekhanlen.
Oldham restored their lead before Onabirekhanlen turned provider for Dylan Thomas who made it 2-2.
Chakki was then dismissed and the Latics re-took the lead for the third time but again, the Saddlers reacted well and the 10-men drew level thanks to Tom Owen’s free-kick.
The visitors had a couple of decent opportunities through Will Uchenna and Charlie Wragg but Oldham won the game right at the death with a penalty.
While new Professional Development Phase Coach Ryan Simmonds was disappointed to lose the match, he applauded the players for their resilience, determination and response after being reduced to 10-men.
“The character and the desire that we asked for them to show was nothing short of magnificent,” said Simmonds.
“You never know because it’s crystal ball territory but I think with 11 men, we win the game. The boys, to a man, did brilliantly.
“We talked to them in the second half about staying compact. We were 4-4-1 and then we changed it to a 4-3-2 because we thought we could counter better and we were waiting for triggers of a loose pass and when we could go and counter and it worked really well.
“The boys on the pitch defended really well in great shape. Unfortunately, we conceded after about five minutes into the second half. Sometimes it can go away from you but the boys were excellent, they showed great character.
“We then get an equaliser through Tom Owen from a free-kick and we have chances to win the game.
“Will Uchenna has a good chance, Charlie Wragg has a good chance, Charlie then could have had a penalty and we look like the team, with 10 men, that’s going to get the winner.
“Unfortunately, a few individual mistakes led to a penalty in the last minute and they scored. It’s crazy to think that we’re positive about a loss because I want to try and change their mindset, I don’t want them to be happy about the loss but having said that, the character and desire the boys showed was fantastic.”
Simmonds only joined the Saddlers last week, replacing Ben King in the role.
He has identified areas to improve and he's enjoyed his first week.
“It’s been brilliant,” he commented.
“It’s a hard time to come in right at the end of the season and I didn’t want to make wholesale changes to everything, just small little changes.
"I believe that they need to be working harder so myself, Will (Heath) and Meldrik (Gomes) have been looking at the data in training and games, making sure that we’re hitting targets that they need to hit and they’re running more in training.
“I believe yesterday it helped because along with the Under 16s, the first years look fitter and a few members of staff have said they look fitter and I’m a real believer of maximising their potential so to maximise their potential, they need to be fitter.
“With us being an Under 18s and then a first team, it’s a jump that we need to try and bridge the gap so if they can be as fit as or fitter than the first team players then it gives them the best chance.”