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Club News

Focus On: Walsall

By Gerry Prewett

8 September 2017

Bristol Rovers winning four game run came to a crunching end last weekend at Valley Parade and Darrell Clarke will be anxious to see how his team bounces back when they entertain Walsall at the Mem this weekend.

Interestingly the Saddlers had conceded three goals to the Bantams the previous week, but finding themselves 3-0 down, bounced back to secure a point in a 3-3 draw.

Rovers recovery was much less impressive and saw them pull back just one goal late in the game.

The Midland team are currently in 10th place in the table on 8 points from their 5 games, with 2 wins, 2 draws and a single defeat.

Last weekend the Saddlers secured their second victory of the season when they overcame Plymouth 2-1.

The visitors started on the front foot with Joel Grant and Graham Carey both having shots on target. Deadline-day loan signing Daniel Agyei himself twice went close, heading straight at keeper Luke McCormick from close range and having a shot deflected wide.

Agyei’s third effort on 23 minutes, was a simple close range header from Luke Leahy's cross to the far post. The away team were almost back in the game six minutes before half-time with Jamie Ness' shot from the edge of the area fly just inches wide.

Walsall doubled their lead with nine minutes remaining as Erhun Oztumer sprinted from halfway before finding the bottom corner from 20 yards. However, Leahy's 86th-minute push on Nathan Blissett allowed Graham Carey to pull one back from the spot for Plymouth.

Saddlers Boss Jon Whitney was pleased with his team’s performance, “I felt quite confident right through it.

Plymouth are a useful team. They are very well drilled, they have a threat, they put you under pressure but I don’t think Gilly (Mark Gillespie) had that much to do.”
“I thought they were very fortunate with the penalty, I don’t think that was a penalty. I think it was a terrible decision. Their threat came from corners, they put it into the final third early. But I thought we defended really resolutely throughout.”
“Teams are going to put you under pressure and put it forward early but we will deal with that, we can handle the physical side and we have the quality when it’s needed, like with Oztumer for the second goal.”
“As a team they deserve it. There is a really good energy about the place. We’ve got ourselves into a good position in the top 10 and we can look upwards now and see if we can start to build on this run.” 

In total Rovers and Walsall have met 98 times, with the Gas having won 39 games, the Saddlers 38 and just 21 draws.

So, lots of games and a very close record, with Rovers just shading it. During that time there have been some remarkable sequences of games.

Going right back to the first game, which Rovers won 5-2 on 27 August 1927 in Division Three (South), there was an all winning sequence for the Pirates of 6 games. That sequence was broken by a 0-0 draw on 30 April 1930 at Fellows Park. The Saddlers won 3 of the next 4 games.

Between 27th March 1965 and 29th October 1973, Rovers paid 14 visits to Fellows Park and won just once! Stuart Taylor and Ray Graydon (who went on to manage both teams) secured a 2-1 win on 24th April 1971.

During that same spell, Rovers suffered an amazing reverse when they were leading 3-1 with 15 minutes to go, on 19th March 1973. A bomb scare caused the game to be halted. Then in the remaining 15 minutes, Walsall scored 3 times to win the game 4-3!

Rovers’ longest unbeaten streak was at Eastville between 4th September 1948 and 2nd November 1963, a total of 7 games with 4 Rovers wins and 3 draws.

The game that broke that sequence was on16th March 1965. Walsall won 1-0 and the newspaper report of the goal revealed that "Harassed by lanky Alan Clarke, Rovers keeper Bernard Hall lost possession after being lured yards from his goal.

The ball rolled to Jimmy McMorran who chipped it back into an empty net from 25 yards".

Rovers gained their revenge just over 6 months later. Manager Bert Tann had complained that the team weren't taking their chances, but in this game, they made 4 and scored 3.

Walsall winger Colin Taylor had Doug Hillard on the rack for most of the game but stand-in Centre Forward Trevor Meath was wasteful with the three chances that came his way. Bobby Jones in the 35th and 77th minutes and Harold Jarman with an 85th-minute header were Rovers' scorers on the day to give the Gas a 3-0 victory.

Rovers have not beaten the Midlanders in Bristol since their 2-0 win on 9 September 1997, in that time they have lost 5 and drawn 3 games.

Midfielder Luke Leahy has said that his team are bouncing, “There is a real belief in the team at the minute, a real confidence, I think that showed against Plymouth. We played really well. They threatened from a few set pieces but it was us getting the ball down and creating chances.”
“We are four unbeaten now, it’s two draws and two wins. I think everyone can see we are a team moving in the right direction.” 

Whitney has heaped praise on teenage central defender Kory Roberts,
“I thought Kory was outstanding against Plymouth. It was a very mature performance. He got tight well, won his headers, his passing was really good and he put his foot through it when he needed to.”

"But we all know Kory’s got great potential. I had no doubt when I decided to keep this game on that I would just slot Kory in at centre. There were no concerns for me with that. He can handle it. He doesn’t shy away from it.”

“You saw last year when he played really well in one game and had a bit of an indifferent one after it, he didn’t put his head down. He came in taller, was accountable, learned from it, reflected and he’s got stronger from it.”

"This is what we talk about when playing the kids – sometimes they are going to have indifferent games. But there is no finger-pointing from Kory. It’s simply, ‘OK I won’t do that next time, I’ll improve and be a much better player for it’."

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