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A look at the opposition: Walsall

1 March 2024

Club News

A look at the opposition: Walsall

1 March 2024

Rovers hit the road again as they travel to Walsall looking to maintain their recent good form in Sky Bet League Two.

Grant McCann’s men visit the Poundland Bescot Stadium looking to make it six games unbeaten in the league, having extended their run with a controlled 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon last time out at the Eco-Power Stadium. 

This weekend’s hosts currently occupy the final play-off place in the fourth tier and are on an impressive run of their own having won each of their last four matches.  

LAST TIME OUT  

Walsall 2 Accrington Stanley 1 

Sky Bet League Two, Tuesday, February 27, 2024 

Line-up: Smith, Allen, Okagbue, Adegboyega, Gordon, Earing (Tierney 89), Comley, Hutchinson, Knowles, Matt (James-Taylor 90), Gordon (Faal 64). 

THE MANAGER 

Having only hung up his boots with the Saddlers in 2022, Mat Sadler took to the helm at Walsall on an interim basis during the final month of last season before assuming the full-time position in the summer. 

With close to 600 senior appearances to his name as a player, Sadler arrived at the West Midlands club with plenty of EFL experience – most notably scoring six goals in 213 outings from left back with Shrewsbury Town. 

Over two different spells with the club, the Englishman racked up 114 appearances for Walsall and now has the club occupying a play-off spot during his first full season in management. 

THE KEY MEN 

Goalkeeper: Jackson Smith 

A Wolverhampton Wanderers academy graduate, Smith never made a senior appearance at Molineux but spent a full season on loan with Kettering Town during his first season as a professional. 

After a short loan spell with Walsall that only saw two outings for the Saddlers, Smith signed full terms with the League Two side in 2023 to keep seven clean sheets in 21 appearances so far. 

Defender: David Okagbue 

Former Republic of Ireland U19 international Okagbue joined the Saddlers at the start of this season for his first loan spell in the EFL since turning pro with Stoke City. 

The 20-year-old has gained prior experience in non-league with Chester and Oldham Athletic before making the switch to the Bescot Stadium, where he scored the first goal of his stint on Tuesday night against Accrington Stanley. 

In the middle: Tom Knowles 

Having graduated from Cambridge United’s youth set up in 2017, Knowles went on no less than eight loan spells away from the Abbey Stadium before leaving the fold permanently with Yeovil Town in 2020. 

After 16 goals in 78 games for Yeovil, Knowles joined Walsall where he has gone on to score seven in 87 for the Saddlers – including a goal against Rovers last season at the Eco-Power Stadium. 

Up top: Jamille Matt 

Veteran striker Jamille Matt arrived at Walsall in 2023 and brought a wealth of EFL experience with him, having turned out for seven different sides across the third and fourth tiers over a ten-year spell. 

A League Two champion with Forest Green Rovers in 2022, Matt has gone on to score six goals in 43 appearances for Walsall. 

HEAD-TO-HEAD 

Rovers first met Walsall in the 1923/24 Division Three North campaign and ran out 3-0 winners at Belle Vue on January 19 of that season before losing 5-2 in the reverse fixture just seven days later. 

In total, the two sides have crossed paths 67 times and Rovers trail in the head-to-head rivalry with just the 23 wins in comparison to the Saddlers’ 34. 

The last time a Grant McCann Rovers side travelled to the Bescot Stadium was in Sky Bet League One when goals from John Marquis, Mallik Wilks, James Coppinger and Matty Blair saw the visitors come from behind to claim all three points with a 4-1 scoreline in September 2018. 

TURNED OUT FOR BOTH 

A name that both sets of fans will be more than familiar with is Doncaster-born centre half, Andy Butler who turned out for both between 2010 and 2021. 

The defender first joined Walsall in 2010 after leaving Huddersfield Town and made 177 appearance during his first spell with the club as well as winning the club’s Players’ Player and Player of the Season in 2011. He left for Sheffield United in 2014 but returned on loan in the very next season to make a further seven appearances. 

Following the curtailment of his loan with Walsall, Butler first joined Rovers on a temporary basis in the 2014/15 season before moving on permanent terms later that season. He went on to score 17 goals in 245 outings in the red and white and helped the side to League Two promotion in the 2016/17 campaign. 

Butler left Rovers for the second time in 2021 after a spell as manager and is now at Scunthorpe United where he occupies a player-coach role in the National League North. 

Contributor: Jefferson Hall-Nolan 

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