Walsall 2 Forest Green Rovers 1 - Report

Walsall picked up their first win in 15 games - and the first for Brian Dutton as head coach - with a 2-1 victory at home to Forest Green Rovers.

It was a dream return to the starting XI for Rory Holden when he calmly slotted Walsall ahead after six minutes.

From there Walsall were fairly comfortable and confident, as they withstood some Rovers pressure and created their own opportunities.

It was much of the same in the second half but this time the Saddlers spurned several huge chances where they should have scored. It looked like they may rue those missed opportunities until captain James Clarke smashed home to make it 2-0.

In typical Walsall fashion they made a rod for their own back when, only six minutes after Clarke scored, they conceded from a corner through Jordan Moore-Taylor.

Despite that, they hung on for more than 20 minutes to earn a much-needed three points.

Brian Dutton made one change to his side, moving to a 4-3-3 formation.

Holden made his first start since returning from his knee injury, as the injured Caolan Lavery missed out on the squad.

Alfie Bates then returned to the squad and made the bench.

The injured Stuart Sinclair joined Callum Cockerill-Mollett and Jack Nolan in not making the 18, while Dan Scarr was also missing with injury.

Mark Cooper made four changes to his Forest Green side, starting in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

Baily Cargill, Aaron Collins, Odin Bailey and Scott Wagstaff all came into the team as Rovers changed from their usual 3-4-1-2 formation in search of a first win in six games.

As light snow began to trickle down on a cold afternoon at the Banks’s Stadium it was the visitors that were almost handed the perfect start.

From kick-off Emmanuel Osadebe played the ball back to Mat Sadler who attempted a long ball forward. His kick was blocked by Collins who then raced towards goal. Clarke managed to recover and block his shot to ensure the Saddlers did not make a disastrous start to the game.

Those first 10 seconds, however, set a precedent for the sides as Forest Green started brightly and Walsall struggled to get going.

Despite that, after six minutes it was the hosts that took the lead. Some nice play between Sam Perry, Josh Gordon and Osadebe saw the latter find Holden in acres of space in the box and he calmly finished beyond Luke McGee with his left foot.

That goal buoyed Walsall who began to find the influential Holden in pockets of space. After Liam Kinsella picked up a loose ball in midfield he fed Holden, who found himself more central, and his effort from 20 yards was just over the bar.

In what was a hectic first 20 minutes Rovers also had spells of pressure themselves. A handful of set pieces and dangerous crosses came and went but the Saddlers defence stood firm, although they were defending deep without the ball and inviting pressure.

A flowing Forest Green move saw Wagstaff pick the ball up on the edge of the box but his effort was straight at Jack Rose.

With 10 minutes remaining of the half Walsall changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation, moving Osadebe out wide and allowing Holden to play behind Gordon.

The free role for Holden almost paid off straight away as he popped up on the left and delivered a cross for Tyreik Wright. Under pressure from the defender the winger could not latch on to the ball and get his shot away from six yards.

After the hectic start Walsall began to look far more comfortable in the second period of the first half and entered the break with a deserved 1-0 lead.

The Saddlers came out in the second half with a point to prove and almost added a quick second goal. A slick counter-attack saw Max Melbourne cross for Gordon who, 10 yards from goal, chested down and shot on the turn but blazed over the bar.

Although the striker was on the turn he had the space to do better and should have, at least, hit the target.

Gordon was involved again when he expertly trapped the ball and released Wright down the right wing. He crossed for Osadebe at the far post who shot first time but also directed his effort over the bar.

Rovers then, as with the first half, had a spell of pressure. A Kane Wilson shot from a tight angle was fired just wide of the post.

Another golden chance came and went for Walsall when Holden played a superb ball to put Wright through on goal. The winger delayed his shot and allowed Cargill to recover. The defender blocked his eventual effort.

Some carnage in the box saw Clarke claim to be fouled twice as crosses came flooding into the box. The referee was unmoved but the captain stayed in the area for Wright’s cross, which was knocked down by Osadebe, and Clarke smashed the ball home to put Walsall 2-0 up.

Only minutes later, however, Rovers hit back. A corner came in and Moore-Taylor headed home to give the visitors hope.

Some slack defending allowed Rovers a way back into the game when Walsall should have been holding on to their lead with 20 minutes plus stoppages still to play.

Bizarrely, the officials added a minimum of eight minutes of added time at the end of the game with Walsall playing with a back five and sitting deep, desperate to hold on to their lead.

Rovers kept pushing but Walsall stood firm for the victory.

Teams

Walsall: Rose, White (Leak, 81), Clarke, Sadler, Melbourne, Kinsella, Perry, Osadebe, Wright (Norman, 88), Holden (Osei Yaw, 84), Gordon.

Subs not used: Roberts, Vincent, Bates, McDonald.

Forest Green: McGee, Wilson (Richardson, 75), Godwin-Malife, Cargill, Cadden (Davison, 85), Moore-Taylor, Adams, Wagstaff, Bailey, Young, Collins.

Subs not used: Thomas, Bernard, Stokes, Allen, Whitehouse.

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