ANALYSIS & HIGHLIGHTS: Walsall 2 Doncaster Rovers 0

Richard Chaplow slides in a pass
Richard Chaplow slides in a pass

If Rob Jones does indeed want the Rovers job on a permanent basis, he will know he has plenty of work ahead in order produce the results he needs to stake a claim.

His month-long audition for the role did not get off to the best of starts as Rovers were hit by two top quality late goals from Tom Bradshaw in a 2-0 defeat at Walsall.

Though the performance was as hard-working and committed as one would expect from a team led by the talismanic centre half, there were all too familiar problems that have blighted Rovers’ season.

A lack of midfield presence allowed the hosts to control possession while the issue of a lack of chances created and the absence of composure in front of goal continued to hamper Rovers.

For the second straight game, Rovers were dominated in midfield. Oscar Gobern and Richard Chaplow - who kept their places in a four man midfield to which Cameron Stewart’s addition was the only change to Rovers’ XI - were barely in the game throughout, as Walsall took control in the middle of the park.

So many times has it been said that Rovers miss Paul Keegan when he does not start. There is no one else in the squad who can act as a roadblock to the opposition as effectively as Keegan. The big criticism of a decent summer of recruitment must be that an effective alternative to the Irishman was not sought out.

Aaron Taylor-Sinclair sends in a cross

Aaron Taylor-Sinclair sends in a cross

It is difficult to understand then that when without Keegan, a five man midfield is not opted for - particularly against a side which will not match up with the flat 4-4-2 Rovers have favoured recently.

Walsall’s two sitting midfielders were the base of their possession while the lively Romaine Sawyers was constantly available behind Rovers’ own central midfield pairing.

It gave the hosts plenty of time and space on the ball and they took it, which largely nullified Rovers’ threat and denied them the opportunity to get a foothold in the game.

But for all Walsall’s possession and gentle probing, they failed to truly put Thorsten Stuckmann’s goal under threat other than on a few fleeting occasions.

Andy Butler heads on goal

Andy Butler heads on goal

That was largely down to the strong defending from Rovers, stemming from a solid back four.

It was a shame Mitchell Lund would shoulder the blame for Walsall’s first goal because he was superb for so much of the afternoon, putting in arguably his finest performance since being introduced into senior football.

There will no doubt have been a few envious glances pointed in the way of two-goal hero Bradshaw.

Just nine months ago he was the subject of a bid in the low six figures from Paul Dickov - how different things could been had the forward made his way to Rovers.

It was not just the individual qualities of Bradshaw that are so impressive. A pest, playing off the shoulder and bursting clear before showing a tremendous amount of calm and composure in front of goal.

But also admirable is the way in which Walsall play to his strengths, looking to get the best out of their star man. Sliding passes between defenders or lofting balls over the top for him to chase, the Saddlers’ whole attacking approach is to look to bring Bradshaw into the game.

Rovers have a player of similar quality in Andy Williams, but have yet to find the right formula to get the best out of a man who scored 22 times last season.

Williams runs his proverbial socks off but has been able to show his class inside the box on far too few occasions this season. And he makes no secret of his frustration when things do not come off.

Rovers’ chances through the afternoon largely came from nothing. With little on, James Coppinger struck a fine overhead kick from a Williams cross to draw the first save from the impressive Neil Etheridge.

Cameron Stewart was lively on the left and drew a simple stop from Etheridge after a surging run from half way. Curtis Main repeated the feat soon after.

Though Walsall controlled possession, particularly as the half wore on, they created little of real threat with their play lacking in urgency.

Jason Demetriou should have done better early in the game when he met Andy Taylor’s cross unmarked only to volley over the bar. And Stuckmann was brave to dive at the feet of Bradshaw when the striker was sent clean through.

Rovers almost punished the hosts’ lack of threat when Aaron Taylor-Sinclair smashed a brilliant free kick which drew a save of equal quality from Etheridge.

The pattern did not change after the break. Former Rovers loanee Milan Lalkovic slid a shot past the post after being released into the box.

And Rovers again looked to strike against the run of play when Williams drilled a rasping volley which was denied by Etheridge’s fingertips.

Chances for both sides diminished as the game progressed but it took a superb stop from Stuckmann to keep Walsall out just after the hour. Taylor cut in off the left and curled a right-footed shot that seemed destined for the bottom corner only for the German to get across and tip it wide.

Rovers arguably should have had a penalty on 81 minutes. Williams tumbled around the 18 yard line after a big push in the back from ex-Rovers defender James O’Connor but referee Kevin Wright gave nothing, perhaps due to the disputed position of the incident.

With five minutes left on the clock, Walsall took the lead as Rovers’ defensive resolve evaded them.

Lund blocked Bradshaw’s low cross but attempted to dribble out before a panicky clearance sent the ball straight to substitute Kieron Morris who shot only for the block to sit up kindly for Bradshaw to strike a sweet volley into the far top corner.

Rovers were deflated and did not look likely to find a way back into the game. And their afternoon got worse in injury time.

Keegan was robbed of the ball on half way with Jordan Cook clipping a ball through for Bradshaw to race clear. Almost certainly offside, the flag stayed down and Bradshaw strolled through for a delightful chip over Stuckmann to seal the win.

Jones has a full week of training in which to make his mark on the team before the next game. It will undoubtedly be a busy one.

The teams

Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Taylor, Chambers, Mantom, Henry (Morris 65), Sawyers, Lalkovic (Cook 73), Bradshaw. Not used: MacGillvray, Baxendale, Forde, Preston, Flanagan.

Rovers: Stuckmann, Lund, MacKenzie, Butler, Taylor-Sinclair, Coppinger, Gobern, Chaplow (Keegan 68), Stewart (Evina 66), Main, Williams (N’Guessan 84). Not used: Marosi, Middleton, Wellens, Mandeville.

Referee: Kevin Wright

Attendance: 4,127 (329 away)