Darrell Clarke praises Walsall's home-grown stars

Walsall manager Darrell Clarke has hailed his home-grown stars for showing 'heart' in the club's 2-1 victory over Cambridge United.

Alfie Bates in action against Cambridge
Alfie Bates in action against Cambridge

Goals from Josh Gordon and Mat Sadler in the first 10 minutes were enough to seal the points, despite an injury time strike from Harvey Knibbs.

Home-grown players Alfie Bates, Liam Kinsella, Callum Cockerill-Mollett and Liam Roberts all started the game and played the full 90 minutes.

They were among some of the stand-out performances as the Saddlers brought their six-game losing streak in the league to an end.

And Clarke was delighted to have the academy products playing together.

"The momentum swing in football clubs is so hard to get hold off," he said.

"It takes a bit of time.

"Let's not forget, we have four players that came through the system in that team today.

"Fans love to see players of their own.

"Alfie Bates, an 18-year-old kid in the midfield, Liam Kinsella, I thought Callum Cockerill-Mollett was outstanding and then Liam (Roberts) in goal.

"That's what the fans want to see at this football club, lads having a really good go for the shirt.

"They want to see the quality as well, we get that, but it's nice to see players coming through the system.

"Doing it the Walsall way shall we call it.

"Long may it continue."

Against a tall and physical Cambridge side, Walsall's men put in a battling performance.

And Clarke says the size of the heart, and not the man, is what counts.

"For me it's the size of your heart isn't it," he added.

"Those boys have big hearts and they have to keep working hard.

"It's up to me and my staff to get the players better.

"They do need a lot of improvement, obviously where we are in the league.

"But when you have the basics of the game, work hard, desire and the enthusiasm to learn and listen, then you have the base of something that can improve.

"With negative results it can affect confidence and mentality but if they can get to the other side of it they'll be better players for the long term.

"Certainly the younger boys, that don't have that experience, they should be growing from that."

Meanwhile, Bates has been singled out as a ‘credit to himself’ for his impressive performances.

With fellow midfielders Stuart Sinclair and Danny Guthrie out injured, 18-year-old Bates has taken his chance with man-of-the-match displays for the Saddlers.

Walsall manager Darrell Clarke and experienced defender Mat Sadler are two in a string of names that have given glowing reviews of the youngster this season.

“Alfie has been a credit to himself, he’s been absolutely tremendous,” Clarke said.

Sadler added: “Alfie Bates is a fantastic example of someone who wants to do well for the football club and improve and impress. He’s shown some real courage at times, getting on the ball and I don’t want to ignore that so I’ll reiterate to him how well I think he’s doing.

“The lad fires some balls out of play but then he gets straight back on the ball and tries to win it back and make another pass and that takes some courage.

“It’s my job, I’ll take it on to remind him how well I think he’s doing, it’s his first season in the Football League and he’s doing himself real justice

“So amongst all of this it’s about reminding people how much of an impact they can have and I think Alfie Bates is doing really well for himself.”

The Coventry-born midfielder came through the ranks at his home town club before joining Birmingham’s academy and eventually Walsall’s youth set-up in March 2017.

Bates made his first-team debut in October 2018 in an EFL Trophy victory over Middlesbrough U21’s and this season he’s taken his chance in the first team picture – a place he’s determined to keep.

“I’m sure some of the other younger lads at the club will take confidence from the fact that I am getting a run of games in the team,” he said.

“I have just got to keep going now and see how many games I can get under my belt this season.

“On a personal note, it is good to get the run of games that I have had and all I want to do is play in as many games as possible this season.

“It’s good to come through the academy and get my chance but I’ll keep saying it, I just want to play as many games as possible and keep improving as a player and just see how far that can take me.”

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