Walsall 1-2 Cheltenham Town Player Ratings: brilliant Broom

Varney bags the winner – @SkyBetLeagueTwo

Cheltenham Town maintained their excellent League Two form, as Luke Varney’s second half winner gave them a 2-1 victory at troubled Walsall. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Walsall

Liam Roberts – the young goalkeeper proved a good shot-stopper in the first half with strong reflexes, although his distribution leaves something to be desired. 7

Gary Liddle – the experienced utility man gets a lot of criticism at Walsall because of what he lacks in possession. There is an argument though to say that the ex-Chesterfield player produced a reasonable enough shift here, despite the lack of protection and did some decent covering work. Might be one of his better games. 6
James Clarke – having worked with Darrell Clarke at Bristol Rovers, James Clarke has been among Walsall’s better performers. Here, he was arguably guilty of allowing Varney to make too much headway in advanced areas, although he did make one or two blocks. 6
Zak Jules – the former Macclesfield defender has competed ok at left-back and given little away, but he is naturally more suited to playing at centre-back and we saw that here. Jules contained Reilly reasonably well and was arguably the pick of a bad Walsall bunch. 7
Cameron Pring – the Cheltenham-born left-back, who had a loan spell with the away side last season, featured for the reserves in the week and was rushed back here, in hope that he might provide a bit more attacking thrust and in order to move Jules back into a central position. On this evidence, Pring may have some work to do to get to full fitness. 4

Liam Kinsella – a lot of fans were calling for Kinsella to play more often last season, but it would be hard to say that he’s really taken his opportunities. The 23-year-old did the simple passes reasonably well but did not appear to bring any major, striking qualities to Walsall’s midfield. 4
Alfie Bates – for parts of this game, Bates was the one dropping deep, offering himself to the defenders and goalkeeper, trying to give them an option that did not involve going long to Gaffney. The 18-year-old should be credited for his willingness to be brave on the ball but, understandably for his age, he does not yet have the level of quality that Walsall can rely on for his position. The Saddlers need a Michael Cain or a George Dobson type in there, somebody who can improve the link between defence and attack. 5
Stuart Sinclair – like James Clarke, Sinclair worked with Darrell Clarke at Bristol Rovers and is someone the manager knows he can trust. He put in an aggressive shift and was certainly not found wanting for heart or desire – he just needs somebody better on the ball to give it to. 6

Josh Gordon – the forward’s combination play with Gaffney was far from perfect, but because he won and scored the penalty in the second half – and looked the likeliest to make anything happen for Walsall in the first – he may qualify as having been one of their better players here. 6
Rory Gaffney – being the third former Bristol Rovers player to join Walsall this summer, Gaffney has given the Saddlers a focal point thanks to his selfless hold-up play. Because he moves away from goal though, typically into the right channel, the Saddlers can leave themselves short of a goalscoring presence – especially if the interchanging with Gordon is not properly co-ordinated. 5
Wes McDonald – because so much of Walsall’s attempted play was about trying to get Gaffney linking up with Gordon, McDonald was on the periphery of the contest for long spells. Did not influence it too much, even when he did get on the ball. 4

Rory Holden (on 68) – the shortage of creative players around Holden seems to be hindering him somewhat, although he needs to up his game regardless. 5
Elijah Adebayo (on 68) – gave Darrell Clarke’s side a bit of a lift with some bright running and fresh energy, pressing the opposing defence back. Any question marks over application that have lingered previously were not relevant here, so it could be that he needed to drop out of the starting XI in order to regain his hunger to play. 7
James Hardy (on 84) – Hardy is arguably Walsall’s most naturally creative player, so it seems surprising that his appearance here was confined to six minutes of normal time out of a possible 90.  5

Cheltenham Town

Scott Flinders – because Cheltenham have been defending so well as a unit, it has been almost difficult to judge Flinders as a goalkeeper, with so few efforts on target conceded – that is a positive sign for the team collectively, because it is a polar opposite of how things were in the first month of the previous campaign. The former Hartlepool stopper though did make a poor positional judgement that allowed Gordon a gaping net, for which he was let off the hook – maybe the goalkeeper position is an area Cheltenham could potentially strengthen in but equally, maybe Flinders’ shot-stopping ability would be showcased more favourably in a worse team? 5

Charlie Raglan – the right-sided centre-back has seemingly recovered from the minor injury he picked up at Oldham two weeks ago. Did the basics of defending well but equally, he did not really have a striker to contend with in his vicinity until Adebayo came on. 7
Ben Tozer – the former Newport man is arguably playing the best football of his career away from the position he would previously have considered his own. Tozer is a key influence at the heart of the defence and looked accomplished at heading, leadership and long throws. He turned home a close-range opener in a performance that was strong, baring one moment of naivety midway through the second half, when he kicked the ball directly to an opposing stacking – in fairness to Tozer, he redeemed himself with a block on that occasion. 8
Jacob Greaves – when Greaves returns to Hull City, manager Grant McCann will surely be grateful for the developmental work of his former teammate of Michael Duff. The 19-year-old looked strong defensively, yet also showed a penchant for making bold runs where possible. Rarely looked troubled by Gaffney’s movement. 7

Sean Long – the former Lincoln right-back has been effective for the Robins so far this season, after returning from injury in the summer. Here, he was not overly involved in general play yet in the final third, he was a key outlet and produced several low cross to create clear cut chances. 7
Ryan Broom – operating as a wing-back for much of last season, Broom has stepped into Kevin Dawson’s shoes with some aplomb; his energy, dynamism, direct running and improving technical quality makes him an ideal player to fill the role of being the most freed of the three midfielders in Cheltenham’s 3-5-2. Looked like a wild dog let off the leash today. 9
Conor Thomas – having bulked up over the summer, Thomas looks more comfortable this season carrying out a holding role, in which his task is to gain a lid on the midfield without really doing anything special or eye-catching. His performance struck a slight contrast with the energetic displays we saw from Thomas last season – this seemed more disciplined. 7
Jake Doyle-Hayes – the Aston Villa loanee was not quite able to dictate play with the level of technical proficiency he would ideally like yet equally, Doyle-Hayes was still able to exert some control on the game without quite reaching his full potential, which may show that he is toughening up, maturing and adjusting to senior life. Has the ability to go up another level technically, which is something for Cheltenham fans to be very excited about. 7

Chris Hussey – at 30, Hussey may prefer to have time and space to swing his crosses in, as he did with the corner for Tozer’s opener. He had to work for his angles in open play yet his persistence enabled him to dig out one or two good near-post crosses for Varney that led to Cheltenham’s better chances. Quieter after the interval, when the away side’s game became less about the wing-backs and more about counter-attack; gave away a penalty for the foul on Gordon but his nous and quality could be vital in Cheltenham’s top seven aspirations. 8

Gavin Reilly – the moments when Reilly has done well in his EFL career have tended to come when he is running in behind defences. The Bristol Rovers loanee did not have quite as many opportunities as he might have liked to do that here, with not too much space in the relevant areas while he was on the pitch. Still, the 26-year-old worked hard, pressed well and assisted the winner – but he may look more eye-catching in different scenarios. 6
Luke Varney – Cheltenham’s silver fox does it again. It was a brave move for Michael Duff to bring Varney into the club a year ago, especially with a bloated squad at the time, but his battling qualities and Premier League nous have been pivotal to the upturn in fortunes. The 37-year-old was not afraid to put his head in where it hurt today – and after his powerful finish for the winner, he could have had a hat-trick, with one effort blazed narrowly over and one header ruled out for offside. 8

Alex Addai (on 76) – the Stepney-born speedster did not have as many opportunities as he would have liked to stretch his legs, although he did fire just off-target on one counter-attacking run towards the end. 5
Rohan Ince (on 86) – added muscle and solidity to the midfield for the closing stages. A shrewd sub. 6
Jonté Smith (on 89) – the Bermudan front-man is arguably the closest thing to Varney out of the other strikers in Cheltenham’s squad, so it will be fascinating to see if he can step up when the veteran is absent or in need of a rest. 5