Match Analysis: Doncaster Rovers 0 Walsall 2

Doncaster's Harry Forrester takes on Ashley Grimes

Doncaster's Harry Forrester takes on Ashley Grimes

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People say you don’t really know what you have got until it’s gone.

Only, that’s not really the case with James Coppinger.

Doncaster's Curtis Main battles with Paul Downing

Doncaster's Curtis Main battles with Paul Downing

Rovers fans know only too well what their longest serving player brings to the party - and his absence against Walsall only served as a very timely reminder of his talents.

Coppinger had stolen the limelight last week, revealing plans for his testimonial year in between hot-footing it to the nearest ankle specialist after suffering one of the most ill-timed injuries of his ten years at Doncaster.

So on Saturday he spent part of the afternoon playing table tennis with fans in the Family Stand instead.

After it proved to be game, set and match for Walsall, the news that Coppinger’s injury is likely to keep him out for two weeks rather than two months could not have been more welcome.

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson is stopped by Paul Downing

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson is stopped by Paul Downing

Without the 34-year-old to call upon, Paul Dickov recalled Dean Furman and kept faith with Harry Forrester in a free role behind a front two of Uche Ikpeazu and Curtis Main.

But with the home side’s jewel in the crown sidelined, the hard-working Saddlers blunted Doncaster’s midfield diamond to claim their fourth consecutive away win - and Coppinger’s absence was keenly felt.

Rovers had no shortage of chances to maintain their seven-game unbeaten run in League One.

Either side of the break, Furman saw his looping header cleared off the line and Ikpeazu hit the post.

Walsall defender and captain Adam Chambers gets away from Doncaster's Uche Ikpeazu

Walsall defender and captain Adam Chambers gets away from Doncaster's Uche Ikpeazu

But during a first half in which the visitors were allowed to gain a foothold in the proceedings, they visibly lacked the sort of width and guile that Coppinger can offer routinely on the right.

Furman, playing on the right side of the diamond, was nowhere near as effective in that role compared to the one he occupied prior to departing for Afcon, a job that gave him licence to get beyond a lone frontman as part of a five-man midfield - with Coppinger on his right shoulder.

Forrester was bright on the ball but spent most of his time in field. And with full backs Enda Stevens and Reece Wabara pushed back by wingers Anthony Forde and Jordan Cook, Dickov was left with little alternative but to address Doncaster’s chronic lack of width at half time by introducing Kyle Bennett at the expense of Furman and switching to a more traditional 4-4-2.

Main made way too, for Nathan Tyson, extending the former Middlesbrough man’s goal famine to ten games.

By that time Rovers were a goal down and chasing the game, a scenario they had become accustomed to earlier in the season.

They had been caught flat-footed as early as the third minute when Cook crept in front of his marker at the near post to flick home Forde’s corner with the cutest of finishes.

Rovers responded well to the setback. Ex Walsall captain Andy Butler saw his header well saved by his former travel companion Richard O’Donnell, and the from the resultant corner Furman’s header was cleared off the line by Ben Purkiss.

Walsall were tidy on the ball and busy off it.

The movement of their front four was particularly problematic for a back four minus Luke McCullough and inclusive of Jamie McCombe for the first time in almost three months.

And the away side came within inches of extending their lead when Forde’s deflected shot hit the bar.

Doncaster burst out of the blocks at the start of the second period but failed to make their best spell of pressure count.

Ikpeazu was denied twice by the legs of O’Donnell before striding purposefully forward and striking a low left foot effort off the post, via the slightest of touches from the Saddlers’ inspired keeper.

Forrester forced another sharp save from O’Donnell with a snap shot and Tyson then came close to connecting with the winger’s inviting cross.

Walsall, marshalled impressively by former Doncaster defender James O’Connor, weathered the storm and came close themselves when Forde flashed a shot just wide from 20 yards.

But the away team did not have long to wait for a second when, following a mistake from Wabara, Cook picked out an unmarked Hiwula with an inch perfect cross and the on-loan Manchester City striker was left unmarked to head in via the inside of the post.

At the other end Richie Wellens saw his goal-bound volley hit one of his own players.

It had been one of the those days for Doncaster and Dickov, who later admitted he got his selection wrong, was left with a strong sense of deja-vu.

Rovers had shipped one goal from a set piece and another on the counter - a sobering reminder of the pre-Christmas struggles at the Keepmoat.

The best news of the day was that Coppinger’s second scan turned out to be notably better than his first.

But in the meantime Dickov must find a way of compensating for his absence. It would be no surprise at all if he returned to the 4-1-4-1 at Crawley tomorrow - with Forrester and Bennett back on the wings.

Rovers (4-4-2): Bywater 6, Wabara 5, Butler 6, McCombe 6, Stevens 6, Keegan 5 (Robinson, 78), Wellens 6, Furman 5 (Bennett 46, 6), Forrester 7, Main 5 (Tyson 46, 5), Ikpeazu 7. Subs not used: Marosi, Evina, Middleton, Lund.

Walsall (4-2-3-1): O’Donnell 8, Purkiss 7, O’Connor 7, Downing 6, Taylor 6, Chambers 7, Cain 6 (Flanagan, 90), Cook 8, Forde 8, Sawyers 7 (Baxendale, 88), Grimes 7 (Hiwula 66, 7). Subs not used: MacGillivray, Preston, Henry, Murphy.

HERO

There were no heroes on show on a sobering afternoon at the Keepmoat. But new boy Uche Ikpeazu again showed flashes of what he is capable of. The frontman had a quiet first half but he burst into life after the restart - and also got the crowd going - with some strong running and bustling forward play. He came as close as anyone to finding the net, hitting the post with a left foot effort from the edge of the box.

VIEWPOINT

Credit to Walsall. The Saddlers did a job on Rovers and also gave the home side a taste of their own medicine, working incredibly hard to close down Dickov’s men and defending doggedly. For Doncaster it was a flashback to earlier in the season as they struggled once again to find the net at home, shipped a sloppy opener and were caught later on as they chased the game. If Rovers are to reach the top six they cannot afford to lose many more on home soil.

MANAGERS’ VIEWS

Paul Dickov: Compared to recent performances over the past six to eight weeks, when we’ve been very good and showed a lot of energy, we looked a little lacklustre today.

Conceding a poor goal from a set-piece as early as we did always gives you a mountain to climb.

We got back in it, the keeper has made a save, we had one cleared off the line and I thought we started the second half really well.

But when that happens you’ve got to make sure you lock the door at the back and the second goal’s poor.

Dean Smith: We’re doing very well on the road.

It was a good performance, and it was a tough performance. It had to be because Doncaster are a decent team. We had to defend a lot of corners and balls into the box. To keep a clean sheet, with the power they have got, was an excellent effort from our goalkeeper and defenders.

The lads put an awful lot of hard work into that performance and they got their rewards.

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