EFL Trophy: Shrewsbury 3 Walsall 2 - Report
Walsall ended their EFL Trophy campaign with a 3-2 defeat against local rivals Shrewsbury Town at New Meadow.
Danny Johnson fired the Saddlers into the lead on six minutes, but Shrewsbury scored twice in two minutes through Daniel Udoh and Mal Benning to lead at the break.
Ryan Bowman added a third with a clinical header after the break, before Johnson was denied from the spot by Harry Burgoyne.
Isaac Hutchinson reduced the deficit late on but Walsall ultimately finished their EFL Trophy campaign bottom of Group I below Shrewsbury in third.
Mat Sadler made six changes from Saturday's defeat at the hands of Harrogate, but named a fairly strong starting XI.
Liam Gordon, Donervon Daniels and Brandon Comley had already jetted off on international duty for Guyana and Montserrat respectively, while several missed out due to injury.
Nonetheless, Johnson led the line for the Saddlers and took just six minutes to find the breakthrough.
Jackson Smith launched a long ball over the top and Johnson ran in behind to capitalise on a mix-up in the Shrewsbury defence.
Burgoyne emerged from his goal in a last ditch attempt to repel Johnson, but the Walsall forward showed ice cold composure to lift a delicate lob over the onrushing Shrewsbury goalkeeper.
Walsall were the better side for the opening half hour with Johnson almost adding to his tally when his low drive skipped agonisingly past the far post. Knowles was the catalyst in the move as he showed great awareness to intercept Elliot Bennett's risky cross field ball. He then helped the ball onto Johnson, who came close to doubling the Saddlers' advantage.
Knowles unleashed a dangerous effort from range, which deflected just wide of the target, before Hutchinson was unable to apply a meaningful finish after classily cushioning down Joe Foulkes' long ball.
Salop did have a couple of sighters during the opening 15 minutes with Udoh drawing a comfortable save from Smith, and Bennett curled his free-kick comfortably off target.
But Matt Taylor's men had struggled to impose themselves on the contest until Udoh equalised against the run of play just past the half hour mark.
Udoh combined effectively with Bowman, whose instinctive flick fell invitingly for Shrewsbury's top scorer Udoh to drill a powerful strike from distance beyond the reach of Smith.
And Shrewsbury found themselves ahead just two minutes later through former Walsall full-back Mal Benning with a second goal in quick succession.
Benning stood behind a free-kick with Bennett on the right and curled the ball past Smith, who was unable to get across to his near post in time.
Taylor introduced Loughran for his debut at the break and the Shrewsbury youngster took just five minutes to make a match defining contribution.
Elliot Thorpe split the Walsall defence with a ball out wide for Loughran, and the midfielder hung a pinpoint cross into the box for Bowman to cushion his header past Smith.
Walsall had three golden chances to reduce the deficit shortly after conceding their third. Harvey Griffiths, who replaced Ryan Stirk during the first half, drove forward with an inspired run to tee up Johnson, but the forward saw his low effort whistle wide.
Knowles was found inside the penalty area by Hutchinson but was unable to keep his effort down, before referee Ruebyn Ricardo pointed to the spot on the hour mark.
Foulkes burst into the box from the right and was tripped by Nana Owusu, who left the referee with no option but to point to the spot.
But Johnson was unable to add to his sixth minute opener as Burgoyne plunged to his left to deny him from the spot.
The Saddlers did eventually pull one back when Hutchinson netted his eighth goal of the season. Knowles kept the attack alive down the right and his low driven cross found Hutchinson completely unmarked inside the box to tuck a first time finish into the net.
Simba Nyamwanza celebrated his 16th birthday by becoming Shrewsbury's youngest ever player when he was introduced for the final 10 minutes, whilst there was also a third appearance for 16-year-old Walsall midfielder Dylan Thomas.
A superb save from Burgoyne denied Walsall an equaliser in the final 10 minutes. Allen hung an inviting cross into the penalty area and Johnson's deflected header brought out the best in Burgoyne, who showed great reflexes to claw his effort away.
Knowles was a dangerous attacking outlet for Walsall down the right and David Okagbue got in front of his marker to nod his cross wide.
Walsall Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Smith; Foulkes, Okagbue, Menayese (James-Taylor 68), Allen; McEntee (Thomas 71), Stirk (Griffiths 40); Knowles, Hutchinson, Maher; Johnson.
Subs: Barrett, Bennett, Leydon, Wragg.
Shrewsbury (3-4-1-2): Burgoyne; Sobowale, Anderson, Pierre; Thorpe, Bennett (Watts 64), Perry (Owusu 46), Benning; Collins (Nyamwanza 79); Bowman (Hutchings 64), Udoh (Loughran 46).
Subs: Godwin, Morris.
Referee: Ruebyn Ricardo
Attendance: 1,409 (254)