Walsall v Brighton U21s: Opportunity or distraction for the Saddlers?

Another opportunity to realise the Wembley dream or an unwelcome distraction from what really matters?

Walsall manager Matt Taylor and Emmanuel Osadebe.
Walsall manager Matt Taylor and Emmanuel Osadebe.

That is the question as Walsall get ready for their EFL Trophy opener against Brighton Under-21s tonight.

Fond memories remain of 2015 when the Saddlers reached the showpiece at the national stadium.

Even though they were downed 2-0 by Bristol City, taking almost 30,000 fans to the capital was a landmark occasion.

Another trip certainly would not go amiss.

On the other hand, however, the competition’s stock has fallen since then.

The inclusion of youth sides led to the ‘B team boycott’ and crowds in the Trophy – currently sponsored by Pizza chain Papa John’s – have been low across the board in recent years.

This evening’s clash with the Seagulls’ youngsters is unlikely to attract a big attendance to the Banks’s Stadium either. Ultimately, though, Matt Taylor wants to build more momentum after going three unbeaten in League Two.

And while there will be changes, the aim is to win.

“We’ll make changes, but we want to win the game. It’s as simple as that,” said Taylor.

“It’ll be an opportunity for other players to get minutes on the pitch.

“But the overriding feeling from me is that we’ve got to continue with this momentum shift we’re building at the football club.

“So, we’re going to try to win the game.”

Walsall are set for an enforced switch tonight as goalkeeper Carl Rushworth cannot play against his parent club.

Jack Rose is due to make his first appearance of the campaign in Rushworth’s absence.

Others such as Zak Mills, Tom Leak and Emmanuel Osadebe seem likely to start as well.

Skipper Joss Labadie – who still has two games left on a three-match ban in the league – could play in midfield.

“Rushy is not available so Rosey, providing he’s fit, will play,” said Taylor.

“I’ve spent many a game sat on the bench when I was a player. You want that opportunity, so it’s up to the players to take it.

“It’s the same as Saturday. We had to make two enforced changes, but the players who came in took the opportunity.

“It’s about doing the same against Brighton.”

Rushworth may give the Saddlers some insider tips on Brighton, who are unbeaten after four games in Premier League 2 Division One.

On Walsall’s recent form, Taylor added: “We’re a work in progress.

“What the players need to understand is the importance of hard work, coupled with their quality and their belief in each other.

“That’ll get better and when I look at the players we have, I still know we can play better.

“We’ve got a lot of football coming up. I’ll continually drive and continually ask – it’s their job to deliver.”

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