THE controversial sending off of teenage defender Tom Jackson overshadowed a brave display from Town’s youthful second string.
Jackson was given his marching orders three minutes before the interval, as the full-back was adjudged to be last man in a challenge with Walsall forward Paul Hall.
To add insult to injury, Darren Wrack scored the only goal of the game from the resulting free-kick.
Walsall didn’t take long to settle into their stride, and Hall came close to breaking the deadlock early on with a fierce drive that Alex Smithies did well to palm to safety.
Hall’s direct intentions were obvious from the start and he forced another agile save from Smithies on 18 minutes.
Despite the visitors’ early pressure, Town hit back mid-way through the half courtesy of Daniel Broadbent, who tested Bertrand Bossu from 12 yards after James Berrett’s gorgeous defence splitting pass.
John Dungworth’s team were never given a moment’s rest by the dangerous Hall. The veteran’s dipping cross was almost diverted into his own net by Daniel Codman – luckily for Town’s Academy centre-back, it went wide.
Some of Town’s passing looked very slick on the eye and their studious ball retention should have been rewarded with 28 minutes gone. A lightning counter-attack down the right flank saw Mitchell Bailey deliver a pinpoint crossfield pass to Luke Malcher.
But the youngster, on his return from a back injury, was thwarted by an excellent block from Bossu.
Jackson’s harsh dismissal left Town with an uphill task to save the game. The omens didn’t look promising, as Smithies pulled off two superb reflex stops to prevent Joao Batista Mawete from adding to Walsall’s advantage.
It would have been easy for Town to buckle considering they were a man light for the entire second period; instead, they produced a spirited performance that could have yielded an equaliser.
Broadbent, full of confidence from his brace last week against Morecambe, missed a golden opportunity to level the scores on the hour mark when sent clear by man of the match Shane Killock.
Unfortunately for the hosts, he lifted his shot over the bar in a one-on-one situation with Bossu.
Town: Smithies, Hunt, Jackson, Codman, Killock, Racchi, Bailey, Berrett, Young, Malcher (Heagney, 85 mins), Broadbent. Sub: Nightingale, Roberts, Brook, Harris.