Bristol Rovers 1-0 Walsall: player ratings, MOTM, heroes & villains in late Gas win
Bristol Rovers inflicted a fifth straight defeat onto Walsall as they continued their pursuit for a play-off spot, narrowing the gap to six points.
Aaron Collins scored in stoppage time with the Saddlers sick of the sight of Rovers after twice losing to the Gas in added on time this season.
Rovers have got a winning habit in them now, picking up points when they are not exactly at their best.
From the match, we take a look at who were the heroes and who were the villains from the Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Aaron Collins: A second time in three games that the Welshman has found the net in the latter stages of a home match. Collins is a man on form right now and it proves patience has paid off.
It’s obvious he’s got a lot more confidence about himself now when he plays and he doesn’t dwell too much on the chances that don’t go in. He could have had a few on Tuesday but was able to pick himself up today, find himself in the right area to claim the match-winning moment.
Brett Pitman, Leon Clarke and Ryan Loft weren’t involved in the squad today so there wasn’t an alternative option off the bench but Collins coped well.
Luke Thomas: He was substituted with ten minutes remaining but Thomas showed some promise once more as he battles his way into the starting line-up. Eccentric against Scunthorpe on Tuesday, this was a bit of a quieter outing for him but on reflection, he was the one Rovers player who looked like he could cause the Walsall defence problems.
There was a moment in the match where he nut megged their full-back and then got enough space to test their goalkeeper. Thomas also put in Collins in the first-half for a good opportunity and looks to have found his confidence.
He’s got a lot going for him at the moment and it is obvious that he’s putting the effort in to try and hold down a place in the team.
The centre-back duo of Connolly and Taylor: You’d be forgiven for thinking that Connor Taylor and James Connolly had played together for some time but this was an assured showing from Rovers’ two centre-backs. Taylor has been one of the stories of the season for Rovers, excelling on loan from Stoke City and now his defensive partner Connolly is doing the same stuff he did. Connolly dealt with every cross that came towards him, heading them away and did well to nullify any Walsall threat.
Hayden White: The Walsall right-back quickly became the pantomime villain in the opening few minutes. Barton was aggrieved by the treatment of Evans after suffering a facial injury.
White was right next to Barton who was in his area of the touchline and the two began to exchange a few words. It was a situation that went on for a good number of minutes, stopping the game from restarting and ultimately Stroud had no other course of action but to book both.
Luca Hoole: A tad unfortunate to be sent off given the context of the two yellow cards he received but giving the referee the opportunity means you’re always up against it.
At first Hoole was aggrieved at the manner of Wilkinson’s foul on Connolly but was spotted by the ref pushing and barging. Secondly, maybe trying to claim retribution for the foul on his teammate, Hoole has slid in on the attacker and come off second best.
He didn’t come under any criticism from Barton in his post-match press conference though, instead he questioned whether he merited two yellow cards.
"It was a strange decision to book Luca considering it was that he protested or asked for a yellow card after their lad had absolutely poleaxed James Connolly after the ball had gone, “Barton said.
“Then to compound it by, five or six minutes later, giving him the second one.
"It was a strange decision to book Luca considering it was that he protested or asked for a yellow card after their lad had absolutely poleaxed James Connolly after the ball had gone. Then to compound it by, five or six minutes later, giving him the second one.”
It’s something that Hoole will have to learn from as at this level you need to be street wise and not get sucked in to the events of the game like today.
Keith Stroud: For a referee that has officiated in both the Premier League and the Championship, he struggled to get a hold of the game today.
A few times you’d feel that the Royal Rumble might start early with squabbles on the touchline as well on the pitch.
There was an occasion in which the fans talked him in to booking Joss Labadie after putting pressure on him.
Bristol Rovers (4-2-3-1): James Belshaw 7, James Connolly 7, Josh Grant 6 (Glenn Whelan, 83;7), Luke Thomas 8, (Harvey Saunders,81;7), Aaron Collins 7, Sam Nicholson 6, (Harry Anderson,70;7), Paul Coutts 7 Nick Anderton 7, Connor Taylor 7, Antony Evans 6, Luca Hoole 4.
Walsall (4-2-3-1): Carl Rushworth 7, Hayden White 6, Joss Labadie 6, (Emmanuel Osadebe 67), Donervon Daniels 6, Brendan Kiernan 6, (Tyrese Shade 67), Liam Kinsella 7, Conor Wilkinson 7, George Miller 5, Jack Earing 6, Rollin Menayese 6, Reece Devine 7.
Man of the Match
Connor Taylor was awarded the man of the match by the sponsors and whilst he played well, I think Luke Thomas was the best player on the pitch today. He may not have been on there for the goal but Thomas was the player who caused Walsall the most trouble. It’s good to see him put in consistently good performances.
No midweek game for Rovers meaning that they can focus all their efforts into their January transfer business. Up next for them is a trip to London to face Sutton United on Saturday.
It’s the same for Walsall who aren’t in action until next weekend, they play Northampton Town at home.