Doncaster Rovers 1 Walsall 2 - in-depth analysis
By MBeardmore | Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 12:19
DONCASTER ROVERS 1 WALSALL 2
Febian Brandy scores the winner at Doncaster. Picture by Howard Roe/ahpix.com
npower League One
THE football season is oft described as a marathon not a sprint – in Walsall's case it's proving to be more of an obstacle course but it's one they just keep negotiating.
In addition to the disadvantages they start every season hindered by – smaller budget than most of their League One rivals, smaller squad size – they've had a fair few additional obstacles tossed in their path this season.
The new calendar year, in particular, has brought hurdle after hurdle after hurdle – and despite it all, Walsall have won six of their seven games in 2013, this triumph at title-hunting Doncaster perhaps the most impressive yet.
Many outsiders expected the departure of assistant boss Richard O'Kelly to halt their fine run, given his undoubted impact during his few months at the club.
The Saddlers dismissed such notions with an excellent come-from-behind win over Oldham but surely the trip to Doncaster would prove an obstacle too far, especially after another week of upheaval.
The eight-day tenure of David Kelly as Dean Smith's number two must have disrupted the squad to some extent – players are only human and such toing and froing cannot be beneficial.
Then was the departure of legendary keeper Jimmy Walker to contend with too – while Wacka has not featured on the pitch this season, he has still remained an influential character behind the scenes.
All of which should really have had the Saddlers' collective heads in a bit of a muddle when they stepped out at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday.
So what did they do? They scored in the first 70 seconds of course. And although Doncaster did level, Febian Brandy's late winner gave the Saddlers a fully deserved win.
In hindsight, it was little shock as Smith's men seem to revel in overcoming the odds – doing the double over Bournemouth and MK Dons this season is proof enough of that.
It all seems a world away from the opening league game of the season when Doncaster ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at the Banks's Stadium.
Walsall didn't play badly that day but Rovers were bigger, better, stronger, more clinical, and looked exactly what they are, a side with title aspirations.
Since then, Doncaster has lost manager Dean Saunders to Wolves but are probably still at the same level as the opening day – the difference here was that Walsall were not. They've come on leaps and bounds.
Fittingly, inspirational skipper Andy Butler got that early goal, nodding in a free-kick from former Rovers ace James Baxendale from close range.
It was a bit of a scruffy goal, unlike their winner 80 minutes later which saw the tricky Brandy waltz his way into the box, beat a couple of defenders all ends up and squeeze an accurate finish in at Martin Woods' near post.
In between, the action was fairly even, with Doncaster having the better of the remainder of the first half and levelling on 16 minutes as Billy Paynter poked home during a goalmouth scramble.
Rovers looked the brighter side early in the second half too but once two David Cotterill long-range efforts had been foiled – one by a fine Ian McLoughlin save, the other rattling the bar – Walsall took over.
Sam Mantom twice tested Woods with long-range efforts and the keeper also saved well from Jamie Paterson but could not prevent Brandy finding the net.
McLoughlin saved a Cotterill free-kick late on but Walsall never looked like conceding a late equaliser – another obstacle they seem to have overcome.
There will, of course, be many more hurdles to clear before all is said and done – the seven-point gap to the play-offs being the chief one.
Is that an obstacle too far? Maybe. But don't back against League One's undoubted form side just scraping their way over it...
Walsall: McLoughlin, Purkiss (J Chambers 42), Butler, Downing, Taylor, Paterson, A Chambers, Mantom, Baxendale (Westcarr 68), Grigg, Brandy (Featherstone 90). Subs not used: Grof, Holden, Hemmings, Bowerman.