Tom Marshall's match report...SATURDAY, 12th September’s clash with Doncaster looked promising for the men from the Midlands.
Neil Etheridge returned for the Saddlers following his international duties for the Philippines, also Milan Lalkovic featured along with Jason Demetriou in the starting 11 this week.
Former Doncaster boss Paul Dickov was dismissed during the week after a poor run of form lead them to 17th place in the league table and for the Saddlers it was a simple case of kicking them while they’re down. Rovers’ defensive presence Rob Jones took care of the side temporarily, which saw him select the former Saddlers skipper Andy Butler, who famously scored a winner against their noisy neighbours from Molineux two seasons ago.
Walsall kicked off and just two minutes in, a beautifully drifted through ball lobbed the back four; however the keeper managed to parry away the thunderous attempt from Saddlers talisman Tom Bradshaw.
This led to more lively passages of play from Walsall that was displayed at the five minute mark when Romaine Sawyers just missed out on a scoring opportunity.
And shortly after, young Rico Henry fizzed in a teasing ball that Demetriou just fell short of poking home from close range, although Walsall were the dominant force early on.
Doncaster’s Andy Williams whipped in a tame cross but the skipper James Coppinger pulled off a piece of individual brilliance by attempting the spectacular overhead kick and Etheridge managed to palm it aside. Richard Chaplow was unfortunate not to tap in the rebound to keep it all square at the Banks’s.
On 11 minutes Romaine Sawyers was hacked down on the edge of the box a free-kick followed where Sam Mantom forced a throw in that was later cleared.
Ex Hull scholar and Ipswich Town loanee Cameron Stewart tried his luck from range but Etheridge managed to get his body behind it well.
Walsall then broke which saw the giant German in goal for Rovers – Thorsten Stuckmann - make his presence known. A minute later Tom Bradshaw was through one-on-one with the keeper but a heavy touch saw it fall away from him and collide with Stuckmann who grabbed the ball with ease.
The 20th minute saw a surging run from Rovers’ number nine, Curtis Main, but his powerful strike just fell wide of the post and this was a perfect demonstration of end to end football.
Later on saw a clever piece of skill and trickery from the wide man Stewart be halted by a foul from O’Connor. The free kick curled towards the back post but a ruck of bodies couldn’t seem to make the chance count for Doncaster.
A collision between Main and O’Connor led to an edge of the box free kick for Rovers, the shot curved around the six man wall and was soaring into the top corner until the straining right arm of Neil Etheridge managed to divert the ball over the bar.
With 37 minutes played Andy Taylor breezed past Taylor-Sinclair and he threw himself to the floor; a dreadful refereeing decision saw a free-kick given to Doncaster and a yellow card distributed to Taylor, you could hear the fans’ frustration and see Dean Smith shaking in anger.
Milan Lalkovic whipped in a sublime cross that was cleared by Andy Butler; the whistle was blown and it was 0-0 at half time in the Black Country.
HALF-TIME: Walsall 0-0 Doncaster
The second half started with Doncaster taking kick off and Walsall now shooting towards the ever famous Tile choice stand.
As the midfield battle continued into this half, a free-kick for Walsall fell to the feet of Rico Henry who squared it to Bradshaw but just before he could place it into the net it was poked out for a corner.
A good piece of play saw Romaine Sawyers slide a ball into the path of Lalkovic, he had no space to turn and the ball was cleared.
There was half an hour left on the clock and the game began to enter full swing as Rico Henry continued to run rings around the full backs.
But just minutes later, Captain Coppinger unleashed a pile-driver that just lashed over the bar and as the atmosphere builds so do the nerves on both sets of defenders, they know that one mistake is going to cost their team the game.
The ball had broken loose for Andy Taylor to hit a thunderbolt of an effort which stung the fingertips of the keeper as again the agile German kept his clean sheet intact.
With 15 minutes left to play Jordan Cook replaced Lalkovic and Andy Williams was set free after pressure was put on him from O’Connor; but all free kick appeals were waved away by the officials despite the abuse from the Donny players.
After a catalogue of defensive errors from the Doncaster backline Romaine Sawyers managed to retrieve the ball three times in the box in the same spell of play; it broke out to Kieron Morris to hit but it was deflected and a bouncing ball fell to Tom Bradshaw at a perfect height and a spectacular effort was rewarded as it flew in a postage stamp of a top corner sending the jubilant Walsall fans wild with four minutes to spare. This really helped Walsall push in the table and added to their tremendous start to the season.
Five minutes of stoppage time were indicated and as Taylor Sinclair sprinted forward for Doncaster he curled a ball towards the top right of the goal but Etheridge seemed determined to keep the clean sheet after a brilliant game between the sticks. This was later recognised by him being awarded Walsall’s sponsors man of the match.
There were 92 minutes on the watch and Tom Bradshaw had received a wide through ball that he ran onto and executed superbly over the top of a 6ft 4 keeper he made it look far too easy but it was fair to say the final few minutes at Bescot weren’t to be forgotten for a Walsall fan in a long time.
As the whistle blew, the match finished 2-0 to the “super Saddlers.”
FULL-TIME: Walsall 2-0 Doncaster
Dean Smith later added: “I was frustrated with the game as we didn’t play the ball quick enough and sometimes you just need a piece of magic from an individual and I think Tom showed that today with two spectacular finishes”
Overall I think it was a good encounter that took a while to get going but the 2-0 win would have pleased the 4,127 fans and this will leave smiles on the faces of the supporters of Walsall lasting until next week when Mourinho’s men march down the Wednesbury Road but it won’t be as easy as they think!