Walsall vs Doncaster: Dean Keates looking to mix things up

By Joseph Masi | Walsall FC | Published:

Dean Keates says Walsall are working on a number of different formations following their surprise tactical shift at Barnsley.

Dean Keates

The Saddlers, who host Doncaster tomorrow, have primarily lined up in a 4-4-2 formation since the 40-year-old became boss.

But they switched to a 4-1-4-1 system – which at times became a 4-3-3 – as they played out a 1-1 draw at promotion favourites Barnsley last weekend.

And Keates says he has a number of other tactical options up his sleeve ahead of the visit of Grant McCann’s side.

“The formation at Barnsley is something that we had looked at and it is what I wanted to play with,” the boss said.

“It was the right thing to do. Looking at Barnsley, the two previous teams they played were 4-4-2 and we wanted to change it.

“That is something that we have got in our armour and we can now flick in between and it has given us another option.

“There are one or two other things that we have been looking at as well over the last few weeks on the training ground and I think it’s important we have those options.”

Like Walsall, Rovers have proved something of a surprise package this year with McCann’s side currently sat seventh in the table.


Donny have won praise for their attacking football with Mallik Wilks – who is on loan from Leeds – and James Coppinger operating either side of John Marquis in a 4-3-3 system.

And Keates expects tomorrow’s game to be an entertaining one for the neutral.

“It will be two teams that are going to have a go,” he said.

“Knowing Grant, from playing against him many years ago, he has always been a good football player.


“His team will be an extension of himself.

“It will be a battle of two teams that want to go out there and win the football match and do it in the right way.

“They will be organised, they play with a good shape so it will be tough. It’s a difficult game because they have had a good start.

“But we are at home so we will be doing our best to go out and get three points.”

Meanwhile, Keates will continue to assess Zeli Ismail after the winger missed the trip to Oakwell after suffering a recurrence of a minor hamstring problem – an injury he initially picked up against Tranmere in the Carabao Cup back in August.

“There is a possibility Zeli will be involved at the weekend,” the boss added.

“His training has been stepped right up.

“He isn’t far away from full training so we will have to see how he develops.”

The opposition: Rovers off to a flyer after summer turmoil

John Marquis

If Walsall have been the biggest surprse package this season, Doncaster Rovers are only just behind them.

The South Yorkshire side looked to be in turmoil midway through pre-season when Darren Ferguson quit as boss over differences regarding “ambition”.

In his place, Rovers swooped to land former Peterborough boss Grant McCann.

But while the 38-year-old failed to find the magic formula at London Road, he has made a blistering start to life at the Keepmoat.

Amongst the bookmakers favourites for relegation before a ball had been kicked, Donny have won three, drawn three and lost just one of their opening seven games in League One.

That run has taken them to seventh in the table.

And they have done it in style with McCann’s 4-3-3 system exciting fans. Last year, Doncaster had the sixth meanest defence in League One.

But Grant has taken the shackles off safe in the knowledge his back four – which includes ex-Saddler Andy Butler – knows how to defend.

The evergreen James Coppinger remains integral to the side despite being 37 years old.But in Tommy Rowe, Herbie Kane and Mallik Wilks, Grant has lots of other exciting attacking options.

It is striker John Marquis who knits everything together though, with the in-demand forward having turned down a number of advances to move elsewhere over the years.

A one-man attack at times last year, Marquis leaves a mark on every defender he faces.

The 26-year-old is a physical presence and a wind-up merchant to boot.

But he also knows where the net is having scored 43 goals in 96 league outings since joining Rovers from Northampton.

Meanwhile, McCann has said he’s happy to be facing Walsall on the back of not playing a midweek fixture.

Since the opening day, both Rovers and the Saddlers have had a match every Tuesday night.

“It’s been good to re-tune and re-charge and get ready to go again against Walsall,” McCann said.

“The fixture list comes quite aggressively with what it throws at teams from the start. But I think we’ve come out of it quite well.”

Likely line-up:


The boss says:

"They have had a fresh start, a new manager has gone in and implemented his philosophy into the club and they have started well."

Memory lane:

Goals from James Baxendale, Tom Bradshaw and Anthony Forde saw Walsall beat Doncaster 3-0 back in 2014.

Key man: Andy Cook

Scored last weekend, despite being dropped to the bench, the striker will be desperate to go on a run.

Danger man: John Marquis

Loyalty is rare in football these days, but Marquis has stayed with Donny despite interest from the Championship. A physical striker who knows where the net is, he has scored four already this season.

Joseph Masi

By Joseph Masi
Football MMPJ - @josephmasi_star

Football journalist for the Express & Star covering Walsall FC.


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