Deflated Doncaster Rovers slipped to a third home defeat in the space of four weeks as their former boss Sean O’Driscoll made a winning return to the Keepmoat Stadium with Walsall.
After a nondescript first half, Sam Mantom fired the Saddlers into the lead shortly after the re-start and Andy Taylor quickly doubled their advantage from close range.
Teenage striker Liam Mandeville came off the bench to score his first senior goal and set-up a tense finale but Rovers - who have now fallen behind in their last six home games - again left themselves with too much to do.
Defeat leaves Doncaster without a win in five games. More alarmingly, the feel-good factor associated with Darren Ferguson’s first couple of months in charge appears to be frittering away - just like Rovers’ top six ambitions.
On the back of poor displays against Fleetwood and Port Vale there was a ‘back to basics’ feel about Rovers as Ferguson reverted to a flat back four with Paul Keegan holding in midfield.
New loan signing Chris Neal made his debut in goal and showed one or two nervy touches as the game started in very unspectacular fashion with neither side able to exert any control.
A half cleared free kick fell kindly to Cedric Evina but the left back volleyed well wide from just outside the box, while Andy Williams’ cross caused momentary panic in the Walsall defence before Keegan’s follow-up effort from distance was blocked.
After a fairly subdued start from the visitors, they showed tentative signs of the passing play associated with their manager when their first meaningful move ended with Mantom firing an effort over.
Rovers, happier to get the ball forward much quicker, should have been ahead just before the half hour mark.
Firstly a right wing corner was flicked on at the near post and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who converted a similar chance at Southend in style last month, this time failed to keep his volley down.
And moments later Williams should have hit the target, albeit from a tight angle, after holding off the Saddlers’ last man.
At half time, with the game goalless, both sides had lacked authority in their play but from a Rovers perspective they had at least stemmed the worrying pattern of falling behind early in games at the Keepmoat.
Rovers survived a big scare five minutes into the second half when Milan Lalkovic’s corner was headed onto the underside of the bar by Paul Downing.
Walsall had begun the period better and Ferguson cut an agitated figure on the touchline, willing his players to be more productive on the ball.
His frustration proved to be well founded as the Saddlers went ahead just after the hour. Mantom bulldozered his way through in midfield and fired in powerfully, left-footed, from just outside the area.
And before Ferguson’s men even had a chance to react to falling behind they were two down – pushing the self-destruct button from a Walsall short corner.
Harry Middleton came out to defend it but was completely out-foxed and when Romaine Sawyers’ cross was only half cleared, Taylor was on hand to smash home the rebound from close range.
Rovers were granted a lifeline late on when Mandeville grabbed the bull by the horns and curled in a delightful goal from outside the area.
But despite a late rally that saw Mandeville have another effort saved, and Mitchell Lund flick a header wide, Walsall held out for victory on O’Driscoll’s Rovers return.
Rovers: Neal, Alcock (Lund 82), McCullough, Taylor-Sinclair, Evina, Coppinger (Mandeville 66), Keegan, Middleton, Chaplow (Stewart 66), Gooch, Williams. Subs not used: Marosi, Lecygne, Whitehouse, Davies.
Walsall: MacGillivray, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Taylor, Chambers, Mantom, Forde, Lalkovic (Henry 76), Sawyers, Bradshaw. Subs not used: Preston, Morris, Cook, Kinsella, Roberts, Morris.