Pontus Dahlberg was the hero of the penalty shootout with three saves which helped Rovers through to the second round of the Carabao Cup.
The home side had the better of the opening exchanges with a few early chances and while Rovers dominated possession for the middle period of the first half, they failed to test keeper Carl Rushworth.
The second half was a different matter however, and although Walsall once again registered the early chances, Rovers certainly had the best ones with Rushworth forced into a couple of fantastic saves to deny substitute Branden Horton at the back post, though his most impressive stop was undoubtedly to deny a spectacular effort by Aidan Barlow.
In the end, the tie was to be decided by penalties in which Dahlberg was the hero with three saves in a row to ensure that converted spot-kicks by Ben Close, Aidan Barlow, Tom Anderson and Kyle Knoyle would mean Richie Wellens’ men would advance.
Richie Wellens made four changes to the side that suffered defeat at the Keepmoat Stadium on the previous weekend. Omar Bogle, Ed Williams, John Bostock and Cameron John all coming into the starting XI.
Rovers were forced to weather an early storm as Matt Taylor’s Walsall flew out of the traps with real intent. Emmanuel Osadebe sent an effort over from six yards, before Tyrese Shade miscued effort should have been tapped in by Kieran Phillips at the back post while Rollin Menayese should probably have forced a save from Rovers keeper Pontus Dahlberg when he connected with a corner-kick delivery at the back post.
At the other end, Bogle fired over from close range after some good work down the left by John in his less-than-natural left-back position and had another effort saved (the match’s first on target) just before the 15-minute mark when his shot from the edge of the box deflected kindly into the arms of Saddlers keeper Carl Rushworth.
Rovers dominated possession in the middle of the half and got full-backs Kyle Knoyle and John into some good high positions but crosses into the box were always met by a red Walsall shirt.
The home side finished the half the stronger with Dahlberg making a great save just after the half-hour mark – a corner delivery was met by the head of forward Conor Wilkinson, it seemed to take a wicked deflection to wrong-foot the loanee shot-stopper but – with some help from the post – he kept it out. Tom Anderson made a good last ditch to deny Kieran Phillips less than a minute later to ensure the scores were level at the break.
Phillips should have opened his account five minutes after the break. A nicely weighted ball by Wilkinson played him in behind the Rovers defence. The striker managed to pull what looked like a certain goal wide of the far post under pressure from Ro-Shaun Williams and Dahlberg.
A corner provided Rovers’ early half-chance a ball whipped in was cleared to Dan Gardner whose first-time attempt on the volley was wide of the target while a ball chipped to the back post by Ben Close missed everyone and went out for a goal kick.
Branden Horton replaced Cameron John just after the hour mark and forced a superb save from Carl Rushworth with what was virtually his first kick of the game. A cut back by Knoyle missed everyone and was met by the Academy product at the back post.
Close was next to try his luck. A ball was dinked into the box by Gardner, a good first touch from the No.8 gave him space to shoot but his effort was blocked for a corner. And Horton went close for a second time, on this occasion appearing at the back post to attempt to steer the ball on target after Kyle Knoyle’s initial effort was blocked.
Aidan Barlow’s spectacular, acrobatic effort drew and equally impressive save from Rushworth in the Saddlers goal, before Tiago Cukur headed over from the corner.
AJ Greaves – who came on in place of John Bostock late in the second half – was sent off with two minutes of the 90 remaining for a reckless challenge on Jack Earing leaving Rovers to play out the additional five minutes of injury time with ten men.
The game went to penalties with Walsall taking an early lead scoring the first two but three consecutive saves by Dahlberg got Rovers back into a good position with Kyle Knoyle able to step and ensure the win.