Walsall 1-2 Rotherham United Six Things: deserved victory

David Ball netted the winner – blackpoolgazette.co.uk

David Ball’s second half winner gave Rotherham United a 2-1 victory at Walsall, after Joe Edwards had cancelled out Semi Ajayi’s first-minute opener for the visitors. Here’s six things on a deserved win for the Millers.

Dominant start

This was a unified performance from Paul Warne’s men, but the nature of their victory was not as dominant as the first 10 minutes hinted at. They had eight players pressing in the opposing half within 30 seconds of kick-off and though Edwards blocked Ball’s effort, the forward crossed moments later for Ajayi to scramble home. Walsall could not cope with their high-intensity start and rather than build play with a degree of care, they hoofed hopeful balls forward under pressure in the forlorn hope that Daniel Agyei would get the better of Ajayi and Will Vaulks without support.

Out of nothing…

Luke Leahy spent much of the first half trapped in the defensive third but it became evident on 12 minutes his talents lay further up the pitch. The left-back, picked out by a sublime ball from right-back Nicky Devlin, cut onto his right foot to cross to the back-post for Edwards, who used his head to guide the ball into the far corner. That goal instigated Walsall’s only spell of first half pressure, during which Edwards hit the ball straight at Marek Rodak after Zeli Ismail’s lay-off.

Saddlers too deep

This blog has defended Jon Whitney in the past but on this occasion, the only player that his defensive strategy suited was Adam Chambers. The 37-year-old did some good covering work and bailed out centre-backs Kory Roberts and Jon Guthrie on occasions, but didn’t quite have the legs to get further up the pitch. Edwards, Leahy and Erhun Oztumer all showed flashes of what they can do in advanced areas in the first half – even if the latter should have done better with his 40th minute chance – but they seemingly weren’t granted the freedom to get forward. Rotherham showed more intent with Anthony Forde’s tight-angled free-kick batted away and Lee Frecklington volleying over.

Walsall shaken (not stirred) by Moore

Visiting forward Jerry Yates had been typically energetic in the first half but didn’t provide much of a goal threat and was replaced at the interval by Kieffer Moore, who found the side-netting with a towering far-post header following Ryan Williams’ delivery. The influential Moore did have a hand in the 58th-minute winner though, nodding down Josh Emmanuel’s cross for Ball to nip in front of his marker and bundle home.

Jackson’s chance

Simeon Jackson replaced Agyei and occupied the visiting centre-backs – now Richard Wood and Ajayi – but could only fire into the arms of Rodak from close-range after some good work from Ismail. The wide man provided a rare moment of quality from the hosts, who got further up the pitch in the latter stages but flattered to deceive in the final third, as their opponents dug in. The South Yorkshire outfit could have made the game safe when Williams skipped inside Roberts to sting the palms of Mark Gillespie, but the points remained in the bank.

Credit to Warne

This blog was more than sceptical of Rotherham United’s decision to stand by manager Paul Warne in the summer but so far, their loyalty has been vindicated. It was clear that the former fitness coach, embarking on his first full season in management, has the support of the fans. The morale around the club has visibly improved and their victory in the Black Country leaves them two points off the play-off places. Whitney and Walsall meanwhile, may soon begin to look over their shoulders.