Walsall 4 Doncaster 2 - Report and pictures
Meetings with Doncaster have usually provided Walsall with the perfect tonic in recent years.
Last night proved no different, as Jon Whitney's men claimed their third successive home win to further move clear of the relegation zone and ease a little more of the immediate pressure on the manager.
The 4-2 victory equalled the Saddlers biggest home win of the season, though it failed to eclipse their 3-0 win in the reverse fixture back in October. This was also their seventh straight league success over Rovers and - just for good measure - saw them leapfrog the Yorkshire club to go 15th in the League One table.
Walsall have now taken seven points from the last three games and though the problems which led to last month’s fan protests are not the kind which can be quickly erased, the recent results have at least means there is a greater chance they can fix those issues as a League One club.
In a game where the balance of play was often even, it was the Saddlers clinical finishing which ensured they comfortably won the day.
Three goals arrived in the first-half, Joe Edwards bagging two in the space of three minutes midway through the period to put his team in control, before Kieron Morris drilled home the third on the stroke of half-time.
The second half was understandably more sedate until Rovers rallied in the closing minutes.
It still contained a confidence-boosting goal for Amadou Bakayoko, before Tommy Rowe and Niall Mason netted late for the visitors to ensure a rather messy finish to an otherwise strong night for the hosts.
Whitney made three changes to the team which had drawn 2-2 at Blackpool on Saturday, handing a full Saddlers debut to on loan Brentford striker Justin Shaibu.
Together with recalled top scorer Erhun Oztumer, the 20-year-old Dane formed part of a reworked forward line, both Julien Ngoy and Amadou Bakayoko dropping to the bench.
The only other Saddlers change saw a first outing of 2018 for Nicky Devlin at right-back, in place of Liam Kinsella.
Both Devlin and Shaibu would vindicate the manager’s decision by taking turns to set-up Edwards for his double.
A quiet opening severely lacking in quality gave little indication of what was to come and was perhaps best summed up by George Dobson, slicing a ball over the Community Stand and into the car park.
It was the visitors who then had the first shot, Ben Whiteman's 25-yard effort curling over Saddlers keeper Liam Roberts but also comfortably over the bar.
John Marquis then narrowly failed to connect with an inviting cross from Rovers skipper Tommy Rowe.
The Saddlers opener, when it arrived, came out of nothing.
Devlin embarked down the right-wing and lifted a ball to the back post. Edwards and Luke McCullough were the only players in the vicinity, the Walsall winger out-jumping the Doncaster defender and sending a looping header into the far corner, goalkeeper Ian Lawlor remaining rooted to the spot.
Two minutes later Edwards and the Saddlers night got even better as he made it two. Shaibu was the creator, latching on to a long ball over the top and then looking back before cutting it back for his team-mate who did not break stride before side-footing a finish into the same corner he had sent the header only seconds before.
Doncaster tried to rally and the balance of play remained relatively even, with chances still at a premium.
Whiteman fired a long-range free-kick over the bar, yet the visitors never seriously looked like penetrating a resolute Walsall backline.
Edwards, searching for his hat-trick, sent a right-footed shot well wide of the far post but neither keeper was troubled until the Saddlers made it three in stoppage time.
It was a superb solo effort from Morris, who pounced on a clearance 25 yards from goal and rode a challenge before firing a bullet finish into the far corner.
Peterborough’s players, no doubt with boss Darren Ferguson’s angry words ringing in their ears, were back on the pitch at least five minutes before the second half was scheduled to start.
Yet it was the Saddlers who were again quickest up to speed, Jack Fitzwater going close to a first goal for the club with a header from a Dobson free-kick which flew wide of the far post.
Devlin then came close to getting his name on the scoresheet when he latched onto Oztumer’s delightful lobbed pass but was unable to keep down his finish.
Bakayoko, who had been introduced on the hour mark for Shaibu, would make no mistake soon after when latching onto another excellent Oztumer through ball. The striker was too quick for the onrushing Lawlor, firing past the keeper and into the net for his fifth league goal of the season.
Rowe gave the few hundred Rovers fans who had made the journey something to cheer when he drilled a shot through Roberts three minutes from time.
Mason then further narrowed the deficit when he drilled home from the spot in stoppage time after Andy Boyle was fouled in the box. Tom Anderson then headed wide as Saddlers nerves became slightly frayed. But it was too little, too late.
Saddlers (4-4-2): Roberts L, Devlin, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Leahy, Morris, Dobson, Chambers (c), Edwards (Cuvelier 81), Oztumer (Ngoy 78), Shaibu (Bakayoko 60) Subs not used: Roberts K, Kinsella, Kouhyar, Gillespie (gk).
Doncaster (3-5-2): Lawlor, McCullough (Mason 61), Anderson, Boyle, Blair (Kiwomya 61), Whiteman, Houghton, Kongolo (Coppinger 52), Rowe ©, Marquis, Beeston Subs not used: Alcock, May, Garratt, Marosi (gk).