Walsall 3-0 Peterborough United Player Ratings: Gordon merciless

A star display from Josh Gordon in a united team display – saddlers.co.uk (Credit: David Linney)

Walsall kept themselves in with a realistic chance of staying in League One last season with a 3-0 win over Peterborough United, as Josh Gordon bagged a brace. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Walsall

Chris Dunn – the former Cambridge keeper caught what he needed to in the first half and looked comfortable, but was barely tested after the interval. The fact he faced just three shots on target shows he was not overly stretched for his clean sheet. 6

Nicky Devlin – it is hugely important, in a relegation battle especially, to have players with the right character and Devlin’s mentality was spot on from the off. The right-back triggered the press high up the pitch once within the first five minutes which shows he was intent on creating a high-intensity performance; as the game grew on, his teammates began to follow his lead. 7
Connor Johnson – the Wolves loanee has a similar physique to Jack Fitzwater – relatively light and thus he was perhaps deceived by the windy conditions on one or two occasions. However, the upside to having a centre-back like Johnson is the quality of distribution, which was very impressive here – his reading of the game was spot on, too. 7
Dan Scarr – the former Stourbridge centre-back produced an outstanding hour. His height and physical presence allowed him to dominate his penalty area, yet he also had the technical nous to make contributions further upfield, including in the build-up play that led to one shot from outside the box in the first half. One hopes the knock that forced him off just after the hour mark is not a lasting one. 8
Scott Laird – “a team of Scotty Lairds” might not always sound like the most exciting of prospects, but the former Preston left-back could not be faulted for his performance here; produced an excellent deep-flighted cross the back-post for Cook’s opener – plus, not once was he beaten individually. One Scotty Laird will do nicely. 7

Joe Edwards – the midfielder’s performance was a bit of a slow burner and he took time to make a considerable mark on the game. After the interval he turned into this all-action, relentless pressing force we’ve know he can be since his Yeovil days. Could have got onto the scoresheet, too, with efforts in either half differing in terms of power. 7
George Dobson – it seems every time Dobson plays for Walsall, even going back to his first spell in 2017, his performance could be placed within the top five of the match, so it is in some ways puzzling that he has not started more than 34 league games this term. 7
Liam Kinsella – the academy graduate appeared to relish a role in a three-man midfield, which gave him the freedom to make intelligent runs into the left channel. On one or two occasions, he perhaps suffered from the absence of a speedster like the injured Corey Blackett-Taylor running ahead of him, yet still Kinsella remained a creative influence. 8

Josh Gordon – even during a quiet first half during which Walsall struggled to create openings inside the area, Gordon was still the one player busting a gut to get to hopeful passes down the channels and forcing defences back. His first half shooting left a tiny bit to be desired, putting wide from the near-post following a left-wing cross, but his persistence was constant and in that sense he got his rewards; a mazy individual run that led to his first goal, before placing home his second on the break – only a saved header in the final quarter-hour denied Gordon the match-ball he deserved. 9
Andy Cook – when the former Tranmere striker is the man carrying Walsall’s attacks with every forward ball going immediately to him, he looks burdened by that responsibility. As we saw today though, when he is operating alongside a more mobile front-man through which some of the play goes, Cook’s workload is reduced and thus he seems to have that bit of extra energy when he is involved in the play. The 28-year-old was freed sufficiently to show his creative qualities, which he did to good effect down the right in the second half – after he had turned the ball home at the back-post just before the interval. 8
Luke Leahy – in some ways, Walsall missed Blackett-Taylor’s direct running ability in transition in the first half, but Leahy made up for a relative lack of pace with perhaps slightly different qualities. When the 26-year-old got into those advanced areas, he had the composure to make the right option in possession and that was the key to a lot of the first half chances the Saddlers created. 6

Jon Guthrie (on 62) – was not given the kindest of receptions when he came on, so the fact he dealt immaculately with every ball that came his way is testament to his strength of character. 6
Isaiah Osbourne (on 81) – provided a physical presence in the closing stages and really took charge of that midfield area. Looks more energetic when coming off the bench than he does playing 90 minutes, so perhaps that is the way to go with Osbourne. 6
Aramide Oteh (on 90+2) – brought on to provide fresh legs for the closing minutes. 5

Peterborough United

Aaron Chapman – the goalkeeper’s positioning for the second goal looked questionable, but in fairness he did save Gordon’s header to keep the score down late on. The search for a Peterborough goalkeeper who is not too shy to command his area yet also an accomplished shot stopper may continue – it’s an area they have been slightly short in for some years. 4

Jason Naismith – the right-back looked slightly better as a right-sided centre-back in a back-three, a role he took on sporadically in the final 25 minutes. He does not offer the capacity to attack the flank directly, but still looked capable in possession and managed to get forward for an effort in the first half. If Darren Ferguson is planning to use a back-four next season though, an upgrade on Naismith may be required. 5
Rhys Bennett – partially at fault for all three goals – especially the second, for which there was one point when he almost stopped running in his attempts to stop Gordon. After a few improved games in recent weeks, this is a performance that might contribute to swaying Darren Ferguson to moving Bennett on in the summer and looking for somebody with more ball-playing qualities. 3
Josh Knight – the Leicester loanee looked the more competent of the two centre-backs, at least in the sense that he did not make any overt mistakes. On the other hand, though, there were moments in which he found it difficult to cope with Cook’s physicality, having had little exposure to the senior game or time to build upper-body strength. There’s potential there though. 5
Daniel Lafferty – if we look at how important attacking full-backs have been to Luton’s impressive execution of possession football this season, it has to be said that Lafferty does not quite fit the bill. Lafferty turned the ball into his own net for Walsall’s second goal – but most significantly he does not offer much pace or quality on the ball. 3

Alex Woodyard – since moving from Lincoln, Woodyard has at times taken criticism for not offering much invention in possession – and this could be especially problematic in a side under Darren Ferguson that will want to spend long periods on the ball. However, Woodyard was among Peterborough’s better performers – he charged left, right and centre to challenge for balls in the first half; his tenacity and competitive instincts are rarely in question. 6
Louis Reed – Woodyard’s style meant Peterborough needed a midfielder with the presence and composure to dictate play from deep; Reed has been tasked with that role and perhaps unfairly. At Chesterfield last season, his main strengths were his ability to play slightly off the cuff, try risky passes and roam sometimes into wide areas. All those things are fine when there is the insurance of two other midfielders, but for the kind of role that Reed has, Peterborough need somebody providing a greater sense of metronomic reliability. 4

Siriki Dembele – the enigmatic magician’s main strength is his ability to jink from wide areas into little pockets of space unchartered, then pick out a quick runner. Dembele did the first part ok when he was given the ball – there were one or two moments of good close control before he was taken off in the second half – but he suffered from a shortage of runners around him and that perhaps limited his creative potential. 5
George Cooper – the Crewe academy graduate might not have been mesmerizing in the 24 minutes that preceded his unfortunate injury, but the fact he was comfortable operating as a number 10 – and thus sometimes as part of the midfield quintet – meant the balance of Peterborough’s play was at least suitable on some level. His early replacement did not share the same tactical characteristics and that might have contributed to Posh’s downfall. 5
Marcus Maddison – the question was not so much “did Maddison play well?” as “did Maddison’s teammates do enough to get him into the game?”. Very rarely did the 25-year-old pick up the ball and not do what he normally does: run at opponents and try to pick out a searching ball. Rather, it was a case of him not being given a sufficiently high volume of possession in the right areas to make a meaningful impact – and, as with Dembele, not having enough options in possession. 7

Matt Godden – the former Stevenage striker put himself about selflessly in the first half; he was happy to account for the lack of width provided by full-backs to try to make selfless runs into the left channel and create space for teammates. Despite not being particularly tall, too, Godden made a reasonable fist of aerial duels. It would be very simplistic to blame Stevenage’s failure to score on Godden – the real issues for Peterborough lay in the earlier stages of the creative process. 6

Ivan Toney (on 24) – on paper, Toney was told to occupy the same number 10 position that Cooper did but, as a striker by trade and having a very different build, that did not work at all. The ex-Scunthorpe man was more inclined to press defences and make his presence felt like a centre-forward might, rather than drop deep and link play as Cooper would have done – and that led to problems in midfield. 4
Joe Ward (on 59) – arguably one of the few Posh players to come out of the game with credit. There is a likeable simplicity about Ward’s game which is key to providing tactical balance; he is a jack-of-all-trades with the versatility to seamlessly slot into various different roles, contributing well in defensive and attacking phases. 6
Lee Tomlin (on 64) – the Posh legend’s homecoming has not quite had the meteoric impact some might have hoped. Tomlin looked languid – as was not uncommon during his more successful individual spells – yet without showing the quality in possession he has proved capable of. 4