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Report: Walsall 4 Doncaster Rovers 2 - Late fight-back doesn’t hide problems facing Darren Ferguson

Darren Ferguson
Darren Ferguson
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This was the first of two crunch games for Doncaster Rovers - and so far they are crumbling.

Clashes with the two sides directly below them in the table over a five day period always looked pivotal.

The right results would go a long way to ensuring they would not be dragged into a relegation battle.

But after game one at Walsall they look much more like tipping in the wrong direction than they do heading in the right one. A woeful first half containing moments of pure capitulation failed to inspire belief that the journey to May will be a smooth one.

In two minutes, midway through the first period, Rovers allowed a game with little between the two sides to slip completely away. They left the door wide open for Joe Edwards to score a quick-fire double. And they did the same in first half stoppage time for Kieron Morris to ensure the second period looked effectively meaningless.

Defeated before any hope of a fightback could begin to mount, it looked like being a real rout when Amadou Bakayoko added a fourth.

All four goals were eminently preventable; slack marking and poor tracking costing them dear.

And in between, attacking play lacked invention or inspiration.

Movement off the ball was terrible, meaning when Rovers took the initiative early on or were handed it when they were so far behind, they failed to mount any real threat. It meant there was more than a touch of embarrassment when Tommy Rowe smashed a goal back in the dying moments.

And there was a shake of the head when Niall Mason netted a late penalty to close the scoreline further.

There had been nothing between the sides in the early stages with both looking to play smart, passing football.

Rovers - playing a 3-5-2 formation - were just beginning to get on top, enjoying the better of possession when they fell behind on 22 minutes.

Walsall broke down the right through Nicky Devlin to cross to the centre where Edwards climbed above his marker to loop a header over Ian Lawlor.

And before Rovers could reset, they were two down.

This time the goal came from the left where Justin Shaibu got the better of Matty Blair and cut a pass back to the on-rushing Edwards who sliced a low effort into the far corner.

Rovers enjoyed the better of possession as they chased the game but rushed, panicky play did them no favours.

And just as they looked to see out the half, they were carved open again to concede a third in injury time.

Morris collected the ball on the right and surged inside, twisting past Andy Boyle before rifling a low shot into the far corner.

It left Rovers with a mountain to climb; the blow of being three down had taken all the wind out of them.

The game was put to bed on 71 minutes when Walsall added a fourth. Erhun Oztumer played a through ball and substitute Bakayoko shrugged off Boyle before slotting under the on-rushing Lawlor.

But, unbelievably, there was time for some semblance of a fightback.

First, Rowe twisted in the area and slammed a low shot through Liam Roberts to get them off the mark.

And in stoppage time Boyle was hauled down in the box, allowing Mason to step up and fire in a fine penalty.

Two goals that added no gloss to a poor and deeply worrying night for Rovers. Saturday against Fleetwood could not be much more of a crunch encounter now.

Walsall: Roberts, Devlin, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Leahy, Chambers, Edwards (Cuvelier 82), Dobson, Morris, Oztumer (Ngoy 78), Shaibu (Bakayoko 60). Subs not used: Gillespie, Kinsella, Roberts, Kouhyar.

Rovers: Lawlor, McCullough (Mason 61), Anderson, Boyle, Blair (Kiwomya 61), Whiteman, Houghton, Kongolo (Coppinger 52), Rowe, Marquis, Beestin. Subs not used: Marosi, Alcock, Garratt, May.

Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire)

Attendance: 3,514 (282)