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EFL Trophy: Cambridge United 2 Walsall 0 - Report

Walsall were the architects of their own downfall as they were dumped out of the EFL Trophy at Cambridge United.

Conor Wilkinson
Conor Wilkinson

The Saddlers had enough chances to win two or perhaps three games but squandered all of them, with Kieran Phillips seeing a first-half spot-kick saved.

And just to make sure the League One hosts advanced to the last 16, Matt Taylor's lot handed them both goals on a silver platter.

Walsall had a whopping 22 shots at the Abbey Stadium and could have had three or four goals to their name going into half-time.

Instead, they were one down as Sam Smith was brought down for a penalty and duly did the rest.

Substitute Shilow Tracey then made sure of the victory for United towards the end after another Saddlers error.

Walsall have had a few disappointing results this season but in terms of outright wastefulness up front and sloppiness at the back, this one takes the cake.

They outperformed the home side for large spells but, sounding like a broken record, the failure to make their openings count proved costly. A deeply frustrating evening.

Report

Walsall had named pretty strong starting line-ups in the group stage – and that trend continued into this knockout clash.

In total, there were five changes from the lacklustre loss at Carlisle on Saturday.

Jack Rose, Ash Taylor, Liam Kinsella, Tyrese Shade and Phillips were those to come in, while there was a place on the bench for youth-team forward Shay Willock.

Cambridge, meanwhile, only had three players keep their place in the team.

Kieran Phillips brought down for a penalty

The one major quirk about the Saddlers' XI was at left-back, with Hayden White moving over from his natural side.

He and the rest of the Walsall lot, though, began the game in a lively manner. They created four opportunities inside the opening 10 minutes.

Emmanuel Osadebe was on his toes to intercept a loose pass, before driving towards goal and seeing his powerful strike palmed away by Kai McKenzie-Lyle.

Almost straight after that, Conor Wilkinson hit the side netting from an acute angle, and he would do the same thing following a well-weighted through-ball beyond the United defence from Jack Earing.

Phillips then spurned the best opening of the lot as he went through one-on-one but was denied by the outstretched leg of McKenzie-Lyle.

The Saddlers' knack of lacking ruthlessness in front of goal was, unfortunately, carrying on.

And to make matters worse, a mistake at the other end soon gifted Cambridge the lead.

Otis Khan's sloppy pass was quickly latched onto by Smith, who was wiped out by Manny Monthe for a clear penalty and went on to calmly convert from the spot.

Walsall, ever so frustratingly, had been the better side and continued to cause United significant problems.

But, crucially, that clinical edge very much remained elusive.

White got forward down the left, cut back onto his right foot and found Wilkinson with a nice cross. His header, though, sailed past the far post.

There was another big miss before the break, too.

Phillips was tripped by Conor Masterson for another spot-kick and took on the responsibility.

However, he failed to replicate Smith and saw his side-footed attempt from 12 yards telegraphed by McKenzie-Lyle.

That first half was the clearest example of Walsall's inefficiency in attack this season. They were the better team in terms of general play and could have easily been 3-1 or even 4-1 up.

Saddlers boss Taylor would have been pulling his hair out.

The second period started as the first ended, with the visitors putting a couple of headers wayward.

Monthe nodded Khan's cross over the bar before centre-half partner Taylor followed suit from Earing's decent free-kick delivery.

Earing also curled a shot wide from the edge of the area, while Khan's free-kick was sharply saved by McKenzie-Lyle.

Kieran Phillips misses his penalty.

Both teams would then make use of the rule amendment, brought in as of this round, which permitted five substitutions instead of three.

Walsall brought on Willock for his first-team bow, along with George Miller, Zak Mills, Sam Perry and Alfie Bates.

It was one of the group to come on for United, though, who put the game to bed.

The Saddlers shot themselves in the foot once more as Taylor, trying to head the ball, fluffed his lines. That allowed Tracey to nip in and cleverly lift the ball over the advancing Rose to make it 2-0.

Walsall are out of the Trophy and they only have themselves to blame for their exit.

Simply not good enough at both ends of the pitch.

Teams

Cambridge (4-4-2): McKenzie; Bennett, Okedina, Masterson, Iredale (c) (Dunk, 61); Lankester (Brophy, 71), Weir, Simper (Digby, 71), Worman (Yearn, 89); Smith (Tracey, 61), Knibbs

Subs not used: Mitov (gk), May

Goals: Smith (pen 18), Tracey (79)

Walsall (4-2-3-1): Rose; White (Mills, 59), Taylor, Monthe, Khan; Kinsella (c) (Bates, 82), Earing (Willock, 72); Wilkinson (Miller, 59), Osadebe (Perry, 82), Shade; Phillips

Subs not used: Rushworth (gk), Leak

Attendance: 718 (104 Walsall fans)

Referee: Will Finney

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