Old boy curse and slouchy start - Doncaster Rovers talking points from Walsall loss

Rovers struggled from set-pieces at Walsall. Pic: Howard Roe.Rovers struggled from set-pieces at Walsall. Pic: Howard Roe.
Rovers struggled from set-pieces at Walsall. Pic: Howard Roe.
Rovers saw their five-game unbeaten run come to a crushing halt on Saturday, as they lost 3-1 at in-form Walsall.

Here are four talking points to emerge from the game.

Former player curse

Much of the talk in the build-up to this clash centred around Mo Faal and his first reunion with Rovers, the side he enjoyed a profitable loan spell with in the first half of the season.

When he was introduced from the bench just before the hour mark the vast majority of the 461 travelling fans made their feelings loud and clear. The West Brom loanee was the subject of their full attentions, with every touch jeered and less-than-complimentary chants emanating from the away end at regular junctures.

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Sod's law then struck and of course Faal found the net, heading home what proved to be the killer third goal for Walsall. Grant McCann was asked post-match by a national reporter about Faal but wisely side-stepped the issue, saying: "I'm not here to speak about Mo, I'm here to speak about my club. I'm just focused on us."

Slouchy start

Rovers conceded the opener in the 18th minute but the hosts were well on top before then. In truth, McCann's men never got going until well after the half-hour mark.

It was a sloppy opening, with passes either misplaced or played far too safe. When asked by the Free Press about the sluggish beginning, McCann said: "I don't know whether the pitch had a bit of effect on that - the goalmouths for instance. We spoke before the game to Tim (Lo-Tutala), Tom (Anderson) and Woody (Richard Wood) and said maybe just see how it is and how it plays.

"I felt for the first 15 or 20 minutes we didn't really look to play. We kept going long and we're not that type of team. We've only got one player that likes that sort of game and that's Joe Ironside. We need to pass the ball and I think after the first 20-odd minutes, we started to do that."

Corner failures

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McCann held his hands up during the post-match inquest with the media and says he and his staff take full responsibility for the cock-up for Walsall's second.

Jack Earing rifled home after Rovers failed to deal with a set-piece before Faal's aforementioned header, also from a corner, delivered the fatal blow.

Recent weeks have seen Rovers tighten up when it comes to defending set-pieces so it came as a shock to many, not least of all McCann, that his side conceded not once but twice from such a situation.

The hope is that this is merely a one-off and that it does not sow the seed for future deficiencies in this particular area.

Hurst hitting form

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Kyle Hurst was thrown in from the start here and delivered a decent showing - or as decent as anyone in a red-and-white shirt had on what was a below-par day.

He notched his second goal in as many away games, applying a fine side-footed finish that looked like it had breathed life back into Rovers' efforts here. Sadly, defensive faults were their undoing.

It came as a surprise to many in the away end when Hurst's number was held up on the board towards the end of the contest with the scores at 2-1. But McCann said post-match that the decision was just a precaution.

"He's trained very well over the last few weeks," McCann said. "He started a bit slowly but he grew into the game today. For the goal he arrived into the box at the right time. That's what we want, to see him getting into those positions. He hasn't played for a while so that's why we took him off. He was carrying a little niggle so we just made the change."

The aim for Hurst is to now keep the starting shirt and keep bumping up his goal contributions before the season ends.

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