Walsall Under 18s lost by a goal to a strong Preston side who sit top of the league standings.
Despite the gap in points a young Walsall side held out well throughout large parts of the game, leading to a 2-1 defeat against an experienced Preston squad.
It was a less than ideal start for the young Saddlers, conceding a penalty just nine minutes into the game from a scuffle in the box following a corner, which Kacpar Pasiek scored.
The period that followed was slower, with neither team having a clear chance until half an hour in, when Preston number 10 Theo Mawene struck a free-kick 25-yards-out that crashed off the crossbar.
It didn’t take long for the Lilywhites to rue their chance, as Charlie Wragg equalised on 38 minutes. After capitalising on a defensive error he was through on goal, where he made no mistake in slotting the ball past the goalkeeper.
The crossbar took another hit just before half-time as Ellis Horan skimmed it with a shot from just outside the box after it fell to him from a corner. The young Saddlers were glad to go into the break with the scores level soon after.
It didn’t take long for the away side to regain the lead however, as Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile tapped in a rebound just five minutes following the restart.
It was a hard-fought game with chances at both ends but nothing materialising for either team. The final action of the match came through a red card shown to Preston captain Max Wilson on 90 minutes, which led to a flurried six minutes of added time where Walsall were unable to equalise.
Professional Development Phase Coach Ryan Simmonds said: “I don’t think we should ever be happy with a loss.
“I’ve just said that to them in there. But the character that they showed today was really good.”
For the majority of the season his side have played with four defenders but lined up against Preston with five at the back.
“I think in the first half it worked well.
“Watching them (Preston) play, predominantly three at the back and what they do is send the centre-half going forwards and we thought that we could isolate their two centre-halves with Charlie (Wragg) and Finn (Teesdale) to make it a two versus two battle.” Simmonds explained.
“However, in the first half we just weren’t cute enough to release them at the right moments. You saw with Charlie’s goal, when played into the channels we’re going to cause problems.
“We just didn’t execute it well enough, in the second half they got out a bit too much so we had to change to a 5-4-1. But I still thought we looked like we were going to score a goal, the chance at the end with Jaiy Leydon could’ve maybe nicked us a point.
“All in all I think that we looked defensively ok, it’s just key moments.”
He also commented on the young nature of the squad, with just two 18-year-olds.
“We are of the belief that if we can get as many 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds playing in this league then its only going to benefit them while our second years go out on loan and play men’s football.
“Unfortunately, the other clubs don’t do that, so then it becomes a bit of a mismatch.
“But today they’re top of the league and we nearly draw and they’re all second years with a few first years. We believe were doing the right thing. Tom Cox came back from loan and he’s a completely different person and player because he’s been exposed to men’s football.
“We believe we’re doing the right thing for their development and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”