ALBION'S first venture into the Checkatrade Trophy ended in defeat as Walsall took home the points courtesy of a 2-1 win.
Goals inside the first half an hour from Kieron Morris and Josh Gordon had the Saddlers in control against a Brewers side featuring no fewer than four full debutants and substitute Marcus Harness' first goal in a Burton shirt on 89 minutes almost set up a grandstand finish that would have taken the game to a penalty shoot-out had late efforts from Elliot Hodge and Jake Hesketh finished inside the post.
Nigel Clough chose to rotate his squad for the visit of the Saddlers. As promised in pre-season it was Harry Campbell who started in goal behind the experienced central defensive pairing of Ben Turner and Kyle McFadzean, on his return from suspension. Reece Hutchinson continued his recent run of starts in the left back berth and Albion fans got their first sighting of Southampton loanee Jake Flannigan at right back. Flannigan's Southampton team mate Hesketh started as part of the midfield three alongside Jamie Allen and the returning Joe Sbarra. Lucas Akins took on the captain's armband and lined up on the right hand side of the attacking three with Will Miller getting a first start of the season on the opposite side and Wigan loanee Devante Cole deployed as the central striker.
After a lively opening it was Walsall who opened the scoring with their first real attack. Maz Kouhyar did well to hold off the challenge of Akins on the left before curling a cross deep to the back post that found the head of MORRIS, the midfielder squeezing his header in despite Campbell's attempts to get there.
Albion's young guns were certainly enjoying the chance to get on the ball and press forward. Miller was showing plenty of promise in advanced positions and both Hesketh and Flannigan needed no invitation to get forwards. Hesketh almost unlocked the Saddlers defence with a corner that eluded Liam Roberts and amid a scramble inside the six yard box Ben Turner was just unable to make the most of it.
Although Albion were looking likely to grab the next goal it was a swift break from Walsall that provided their second on 28 minutes. Full back Nicky Devlin burst down the right and found a yard of space to whip in a low cross as Hutchinson challenged and GORDON had the simple task of steering it home from inside the six yard box.#
The goal summed up the luck that both sides were having in front of goal. Barely a minute after falling two behind Miller saw a deflected shot blocked and although Cole pounced on the rebound he was unable to find a way past Roberts either.
Albion came closest yet to halving the deficit on 36 minutes. Miller's corner was headed back into the danger area by Turner and Akins must have thought he had scored with a powerful header until Jordan Sangha, on the line, headed the ball onto the crossbar before scrambling the ball away from goal. The Brewers knocking on the door but not quite breaking through at this stage.
Cole got a meaningful flick onto a curling Miller cross on 42 minutes as Albion continued to threaten but Roberts was able to comfortably watch this one drop over and wide of his goal.
Plenty of first half promise but a killer finish missing as Albion had it all to do in the second half.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-2 Walsall
The second half started much as the first half had ended with plenty of promising play from Albion but without the finishing touch. When Hesketh was brought down just outside the box the Southampton youngster was keen to try his luck from the free kick but his effort crashed into the wall before Flannigan picked up the pieces and set his cross in too deep for a yellow shirt to get on the end of.
Another good chance came Burton's way on 53 minutes when a short corner was played into Akins and the skipper turned smartly to deliver a low cross that was bundled wide of the post by McFadzean in the centre.
Just shy of the hour mark Miller and Flannigan made way for Marvin Sordell and Elliot Hodge as the Brewers looked to some fresh legs for the remainder of the game.
An otherwise keenly fought contest saw quickfire bookings for Walsall's Dylan Parker and Albion's Hutchinson for challenges on McFadzean and Kieron Morris respectively.
Walsall almost added to their tally on 65 minutes when a swift counter saw Gordon played in on the left but his low shot across goal fizzed past the far post, the visitors starting to use their pace to good effect after sitting deep to soak up what the Brewers could throw at them.
Albion's final change came just inside the final twenty minutes with Cole, presumably with Saturday in mind, withdrawn to give Marcus Harness another outing from the bench. This came after Walsall had introduced two of their own youngsters as both goalscorer Morris and midfielder Parker were taken off.
Albion continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession in the closing stages but the Saddlers well drilled defence seemed to have someone in the right place every time a cross came into their penalty area.
Harness' finish at the end of a flowing move was the least Albion deserved and they almost grabbed a late equaliser when Hesketh's low drive finished just the wrong side of the post. Hodge also saw a header in stoppage time finish wide of the mark before a dipping shot from the former Notts County youngster flew just over the bar with Roberts struggling to get there.
Just too little too late to salvage a point for the Brewers then but there was plenty of encouraging performances from some of Albion's young players looking to push for more first team action.