Walsall 4-2 Doncaster Rovers Six Things: super Saddlers defeat dithering Donny

“Super Joey Edwards” – www.gettyimages.co.uk

Walsall tossed aside Doncaster Rovers on pancake night, when a Joe Edwards brace helped them to a more dominant victory than the 4-2 scoreline might suggest. Here’s six things from the game.

Walsall’s pressing

Jon Whitney has often justifiably been criticized for employing imbalanced tactics but here, every player knew inherently what they were doing and that showed from the off. Brentford loanee Justin Shaibu was a willing runner down the left channel, ably supported by Kieron Morris and Erhun Oztumer in forcing the visitors back.

Darren’s dithering Donny

Darren Ferguson follows the Rinus Michels philosophy: he wants his players to be comfortable in as many different positions as possible to create unpredictability. The problem is that sometimes that unpredictability can transcend onto his own players, rather than the opposition and we saw evidence of that in the Black Country. When one of the wider-positioned players – Matty Blair, Rodney Kongolo or Tommy Rowe – moved inside that required a central player to move into the space on the outside. By the time that changing of position had been worked out by Doncaster players, Walsall were already savvy to the move, thus reducing any potential for fluency.

The Edwards effect

Walsall’s midfield did some outstanding work out of possession. Adam Chambers acted as the anchor man who coolly tidied things up in the defensive third, while George Dobson and Joe Edwards engaged with the ball earlier to trigger a press. The duo didn’t always win the ball but their aggression maximized Doncaster’s uncertainty and Edwards capped a fine performance with a brace. First, his 22nd-minute header from Nicky Devlin’s right-wing cross looped over Ian Lawlor, then not two minutes later, the midfielder tucked home Shaibu’s pull-back.

Further punishment

Morris beat Andy Boyle to a loose ball before capitalizing on hesitant defending from Tom Anderson, to drill the ball home for a third in first half stoppage time. On the hour, Amadou Bakayoko came on for Shaibu to provide fresh legs against an increasingly high visiting back-line. Shortly afterwards he nearly latched onto a through ball from Oztumer, who slightly overestimated the academy graduate’s run, but the duo linked up for the fourth on 71 minutes. The Turk picked up a stray pass before playing an inch-perfect ball for the speedster, who calmly slotted beyond Lawlor one-on-one.

Doncaster’s hollow resurgence

Ferguson’s men only started to play some decent football in the last 10 minutes. Just as Walsall suffered from the withdrawal of Edwards, John Marquis started getting change out of Jack Fitzwater while substitute James Coppinger added a touch of class to proceedings. Rowe, who had been shoehorned into a left wing-back role, finally managed to get into areas where his technical qualities could come to the fore. The 28-year-old unleashed an effort that went under Liam Roberts on 87 minutes, before substitute Niall Mason netted from the spot on 90. Sadly for those who travelled from South Yorkshire, it was far too late for salvation.

Saddlers in-form

While defeat continues Doncaster’s winless 2018 – which could accompany a slide into the mire – Walsall have won five of their last seven at home and can take huge encouragement from their performance. This was a ruthless, clinical display and it seems their manager has settled on a midfield full of energy and dynamism. Question marks remain as to whether they will progress under Whitney – and one mini-run shouldn’t banish his doubters – but he deserves credit for an undoubted step in the right direction.