Rovers make it back to back wins with victory at Walsall

December 27, 2018

It was the dream start for Interim Manager Graham Coughlan in what was his third game at the helm, with his side 2-0  to the good inside 10 minutes thanks to a close-range finish from Captain Tom Lockyer and a superb volley by Alex Rodman.

Walsall did peg one back just before the break through Josh Gordon, however Tareiq Holmes-Dennis restored the two-goal lead with his first for the club when he finished off a flowing move led by Alex Jakubiak, as Rovers climbed to 20th position the table.

Coughlan named an unchanged side from last weekend’s victory over Fleetwood Town, with the only change to the entire squad, was the returning Liam Sercombe who took Sam Matthews’ place on the bench.

Holmes-Dennis continued his long-awaited return from injury as he started his third game in a row.

First half-chance of the game fell to Walsall and Josh Gordon inside the opening minute, the frontman controlled a high ball well inside the box and lashed a left-footed strike at goal but it was held comfortably by Jack Bonham.

After a scrappy beginning to the encounter on a bobbly, difficult surface, it was Rovers who drew first blood and similarly to last weekend’s winner, it came from an unlikely source.

Tom Lockyer won a free-kick just inside the Walsall half, the ball was delivered by Upson and cleared wide where it was picked up by Alex Rodman. The winger got the byline and fired a low ball across goal that was turned in by the man who won the initial set-piece, Lockyer; his fourth so far this season – already his highest scoring campaign to date.

Rovers’ start went from good to better with just 10 minutes played. Good work from Holmes-Dennis down the left saw the ball make its way out to Michael Kelly via Ollie Clarke, the left-back clipped in a measured cross to the back post that was met with an exquisite volley by Rodman as the winger fired home his second goal in three games via the post.

Despite the perfect opening for the visitors, they were inches away from having their advantage halved, when Jon Guthrie rose highest at a cross to direct a header onto Bonham’s post before it was scrambled away by Tony Craig.

Rovers’ quick-fire double visibly shook Walsall into life as they went in search of a hasty reply, Kieron Morris skipped past a number of challenges and into the box before forcing a smart stop by Bonham with a left-footed shot.

Craig is the only outfield player to feature in every league game so far this season and demonstrated why with a superb piece of defending just before the 20-minute mark as Gordon carried a bouncing ball into the area but was met by a perfectly timed challenge from Craig – one wrong move and the Saddlers could have had a spot kick.

After a five to 10 minute period of reasonable pressure from the hosts, Rovers began to resume further control of the ball and string some passes of their own together. Holmes-Dennis enjoyed a promising opening half an hour and showed some real quality with a very inviting delivery off the left flank that Reilly didn’t quite anticipate; his apologetic glance back at the ball’s inceptor told the story.

Holmes-Dennis received the first booking of the game with around five minutes of the half left, for an ill-timed challenge in the middle of the park.

Despite Rovers’ lead, Walsall weren’t without their threat and the game was far from won as Morris reminded the visitors, controlling a high ball on the edge of the box before flashing a low strike just wide of the post.

After 40 minutes of no cautions and in similar fashion to London buses, two then came at once when Reilly followed Holmes-Dennis into the book as he challenged Jack Fitzwater’s clearance – the decision appeared a touch soft.

On the stroke of half-time and after warning signs from Walsall, Rovers lead was reduced no doubt to the frustration of Coughlan, with the ideal 2-0 interval lead now dashed and the interim boss’ team talk needing revising.

Walsall were awarded a dubious free kick in the middle of the park, which was launched towards the box and eventually bounced centrally to Gordon who admittedly produced an excellent standing overhead kick to loop the ball over Bonham and into the net.

As they did in the first half, Rovers started the second brightly when O.Clarke found Reilly with a good ball down the right, the Scotsman looked up and fired a tantalising low cross across the face of goal that left the Walsall defenders rooted to the turf, however a yellow shirt in the right spot was lacking, particularly with Reilly on the other end of the cross.

Not long after Rovers earned their first corner of the half as a result of good work from Rodman. The ball was choreographed short to the spare Upson just inside the area who met the ball well but it was beaten away by keeper Liam Roberts.

The promising start soon paid dividends as Rovers’ two-goal lead was restored in stylish fashion. Jakubiak drove off the right flank with purpose and skipped past a few challenges, before fizzing a ball into the underlapping Holmes-Dennis. The makeshift winger’s first touch took it beyond his man and into the box, before he calmly slotted the ball past the keeper on his weaker foot in front of the travelling Gas faithful, who revelled in the summer signing’s first goal for the club.

After the goal, a lulling period of approximately 10 minutes or so followed, which given the two-goal deficit, suited Rovers a lot more so than their counterparts who were running out of time to find another route back into the game; made harder by Rovers’ care with the ball when in possession.

Just past the 70-minute mark, Coughlan made his first change as Sercombe made his return, coming on for Reilly.

10 minutes left on the clock and with Rovers’ lead still intact, Holmes-Dennis left the field with more minutes and a goal under his belt, replaced by Tom Nichols.

Naturally Walsall looked to vamp up the pressure in a bid to salvage an unlikely point, but such was the game management demonstrated by Rovers’, there was hardly a moment of worry inside Bonham’s box.

The final change took place with roughly four minutes remaining, with Jakubiak clapped off for a fine afternoon’s work as Stefan Payne entered the fray, who worked hard alongside Nichols up front to help see out a great result.

Rovers XI: Jack Bonham (GK), James Clarke, Tom Lockyer (c), Tony Craig, Michael Kelly, Ed Upson, Ollie Clarke, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (Tom Nichols, 80′), Alex Rodman, Gavin Reilly (Liam Sercombe, 72′), Alex Jakubiak (Stefan Payne, 86′).

Subs: Adam Smith (GK), Tom Broadbent, Joe Partington, Chris Lines.

Walsall XI: Liam Roberts (GK), Luke Leahy, George Dobson (c), John Guthrie, Nicky Devlin, Kieron Morris (Connor Ronan, 78′), Andy Cook, Zeli Ismail (Morgan Ferrier, 59′), Liam Kinsella, Jack Fitzwater, Josh Gordon (Joe Edwards, 59′).

Subs: Chris Dunn (GK), Connor Johnson, Kane Wilson, Alfie Bates.

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