This season has not gone the way that many Saddlers fans hoped, or expected. It has been tough viewing at times, with very little for the Saddlers faithful to be cheerful about. However, there is one bright spark that has appeared in recent weeks, and it may have a big part to play going forward.
Since Brian Dutton has been in charge, he has handed league debuts to two promising youngsters, Sam Perry and Tom Leak. Not only was promising to see youth products playing, but their performances have been that of seasoned pro’s.
Fans have been excited to see Perry play after his promising display in the EFL Trophy last season. He held himself well in the defeat to Portsmouth, and was on the brink of featuring more for the first team last season. Injury and Covid has pushed back his return. However Dutton’s faith has been repaid, and Perry is now looking like a first team regular. The coaching staff deserve credit for nurturing his talent, and it was a credit to his mentality that despite scoring, he was visibly disappointed at the teams loss to Bolton.
Perry is young and hungry, and alongside Kinsella, who has had a fantastic season, and Bates, who has continued to develop after his debut season last campaign, Walsall have a solid central midfield. Fans know more creativity is needed in that role, but minds are at ease for the midfield next season. Perry signed a deal over the summer, which as per Darrell Clarke’s wishes, the length was not disclosed. However, Leigh Pomlett has been smart with the length of deals for the younger players, and has also been putting in options in the clubs favour, which would make sense to have done with Perry.
Perry, 19, has not been out on loan in his short career, but he seems set for first team football. The pandemic has potentially aided his route to the first team, as the clubs he would be looking at joining on loan, have been affected more than the EFL. Whatever the reason, he has seized his chance at first team football with both hands, and shone in his 9 games this season.
Leaks inclusion recently has been more of a surprise than Perry. Leak has had two loan spells away from Walsall. He played at Bath this season, and Salisbury last season. In both spells, he impressed, and also got valuable minutes in men’s football. Leak’s Walsall career has seen him well and truly thrown in at the deep end.
He has played two full games, against Southend and Grimsby, and he has looked solid in both. He has also shown adaptability, in being able to play at Right-Back as well as his favoured Centre-Back. It has only been two games, but Leak looks like a fine young addition to a backline that is aging. Mat Sadler and James Clarke have been in good form, but they are 36 and 31 respectively. Leak at 20, is the future in a position that doesn’t have any other younger prospects.
Leak’s debut was particularly impressive given how little he has been around the bench. He has been training with the first team, and travelling to games, but has only appeared on the bench twice this season before his starts, once in the trophy against Oxford, and once in the league against Newport.
His inclusion, and readiness shows hows professional he is, and the same goes for Perry. With Alfie Bates breaking through last season, and Cockerill-Mollett also featuring, it has been a productive spell for the youth system, and something that the club need to keep on top of, and churning players out. These three, Bates included, have given some hope for the future, but the question remains, what will the team around them look like next season?