Doncaster Rovers: ‘There is enough quality to stay up’ – the opposition view on Walsall
As Doncaster Rovers look to build a run of form to secure a play-off place, they again come up against a side fighting at the other end of the table.
Visiting Walsall are desperate for positive results to go with the promising performances of recent weeks, so what are the chances of that happening?
We spoke to the Express and Star’s Saddlers writer Joe Masi to get the lowdown.
Q: Walsall are deep in the congested battle for survival. How have they found themselves in this position this season?
JM: Between December and February, the Saddlers went on a run where they lost eight of nine matches and now they are paying for it.
They started the season unbelievably well. They went unbeaten in their first seven outings, and even in October they were fifth in the table.
But their form dipped slightly, a few decisions went against them and it all spiraled into that winless run.
They got back on track by beating Bradford with 10 men. They then secured a good point at Burton before beating Fleetwood.
The last three games they have taken on Portsmouth, Sunderland and Barnsley and lost them all.
But they should have taken a point off both Portsmouth and Sunderland. And they absolutely should have beaten Barnsley - they played them off the park.
Incredibly, after those eight loses from nine, they weren't in the bottom four. But it's caught with them now because - while playing well - they have been really unlucky with their fixtures.
Walsall had a great opening the third to the season. The middle third was dreadful. And now the aim is to finish the final third strongly.
They have certainly played well in their last seven games, but they now need to start picking up points now they've got the automatic promotion contenders out the way.
Q: How optimistic are you that they will survive?
JM: If Walsall play like they have in the past six games, they will survive.
The pressure is on, of course it is.
But there is enough attacking quality in the squad to stay up.
And they are starting to look more solid at the back.
Q: Has Dean Keates come under pressure in recent months?
JM: He has come under pressure from fans. But he is a club legend and there is still a great will for him to succeed.
Q: What system and style of play does Keats favour?
JM: In the last few weeks Walsall have lined up in a 4-3-3 system that becomes a 4-5-1 when they defend.
During their poor run, they became quite panicky on the ball and were too keen to hit in long.
Keates was eager to get away from that so now there is a real emphasis on keeping the ball down and getting the widemen on the ball as much as possible.
Q: Who are the danger men for Walsall?
JM: Zeli Ismail, with the ball at his feet, is as good as anyone in League One. He needs to improve his end product though.
Corey Blackett-Taylor is another hugely promising winger who is now making his mark after joining on loan from Villa.
Josh Gordon works really hard up front and has started chipping in with goals.
Targetman Andy Cook is top scorer but has had to make do with a place on the bench in recent weeks following his red card against Bradford.
In midfield, George Dobson has it all. He can break up play but his passing range is also excellent.