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Match Report: Bristol Rovers 2 Walsall 2 (Pens: 2-4)

For the second time in four days Darrell Clarke's Saddlers took part in a cup clash as their 2020/21 campaign gets off to a swift start.
Walsall opened their campaign with a goalless draw at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday afternoon, the Championship outfit securing a spot in Round Two of the Carabao Cup with thanks to a successful penalty shoot-out.

With very few days to dwell upon the result, the Saddlers faced League One opposition in the shape of Bristol Rovers as manager Clarke had the chance to get one over on one of his former employers.

The gaffer made several changes from the side which faced Sheffield Wednesday with recent signings Jack Rose, Hayden White and Emmanuel Osadebe all making their club debuts.

Bristol Rovers got the match underway, and the home side began the game brightly, seeing plenty of possession in the early goings, though Walsall were not short of time on the ball either.

With just seven minutes on the clock, the hosts saw their first chance of the game go begging, as Jonah Ayunga dragged a low, long-range effort wide.

The home team continued to look the more likely to score, and went close again in the ninth minute as Ayunga worked himself into space on the edge of the area, before firing an effort high over the crossbar.

The Saddlers were quick to work the ball up to the other end, where they were unlucky not to take an early lead, as Emmanuel Osadebe saw a deflected effort connect with the upright before Caolan Lavery fired the rebound wide from close range.

Rovers were soon back on the attack, and after a lovely cross from David Tutonda evaded everyone, the hosts found a breakthrough in the sixteenth minute. A Camer. Hargreaves cross being turned into the bottom corner by debutant, Thomas Mehew.

The home side continued to apply pressure to the Walsall defences, calling Jack Rose into action just three minutes later, the 'keeper doing well to save an Ayunga effort destined for the bottom right corner.

The early frenetic pace slowed a little as the game continued, but twenty-eight minutes in, the Saddlers won a corner as Cian Harries turned the ball out of play. The flag-kick was swung towards the centre of the box by Jack Nolan, where Zak Jules was waiting to head home to level the scores.

Rovers looked to restore their lead quickly, with Mehew finding himself one-on-one with Rose in the thirty-first minute, following some poor defending from James Clarke, but the shot-stopper was alert to the danger and used his legs to deny the midfielder a second.

With thirty-two minutes on the clock, the referee reached for his first yellow card of the game, as a foul on Josh Hare saw George Nurse booked.

Within a minute, the yellow card required a second outing, as a foul on Josh Gordon saw Jack Baldwin join Nurse in the referee's notebook.

Just five minutes later, Liam Kinsella found himself joining those on a booking, as a foul on Ayunga saw the referee flash his card once more.

Five minutes before the break, Hargreaves went close to re-establishing his sides early lead, with a right-footed effort from the edge of the area, but the effort sailed inches over the bar.

Moments later, some good work from Kinsella saw Nolan gifted an opportunity at the other end, but Rovers shot-stopper, Jordi van Stappershoef, was well placed to beat the effort away.

That would be the last real action of the first-half, and the sides headed off for their half-time refreshments with the game tied at one-goal-apiece.

ROVERS
1 - 1
WALSALL

The teams returned unchanged following the interval, and Walsall got the second-half action underway. Both sides took their time to settle back into the game, with little attacking form on show in the opening few minutes.

The game settled into a rather scrappy affair as it continued, with a string of free-kicks being awarded for fouls, including one in the fifty-fourth minute, which saw a Tutonda shot turned behind for a corner, which came to nothing.

The home side continued to press, and went close again in the fifty-fourth minute, but Hargreaves effort was aimed straight into the waiting arms of Rose.

With fifty-seven minutes on the clock, Emmanuel Osadebe became the latest recruit into the yellow card club, picking up a booking for a foul.

That would be Osadebe's final contribution to the game, as he, Jack Nolan and Hayden White were asked to give way for Rory Holden, Wes McDonald and Cameron Norman in the fifty-eighth minute as Darrell Clarke looked to shake things up.

As we reached the hour mark, the referee again made use of his yellow card, as he booked Thomas Mehew for a foul on James Clarke.

The changes to the Walsall side looked to have paid dividends in the sixty-fourth minute, as a cross from Norman was met by the head of Gordon, who duly guided the ball home to put the Saddlers ahead for the first time in the match.

The Saddlers went close again just two minutes later, but following some lovely build-up from Holden and Lavery, the cross in for Gordon had just too much on it.

Twenty minutes from time, Rovers opted to make a double change to their team, with Zain Walker and Cameron Hargreaves making way for James Daly and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson.

Much as it had for the Saddlers only moments earlier, the change to the line-up almost immediately paid dividends for the hosts, as a cross in from Mitchell-Lawson was slotted into the bottom corner by Ayunga to level the scores once more.

The game settled again after a busy few minutes, with the Saddlers winning a couple of corners which came to nothing, whilst much of the action centred around the midfield area.

With eighty-two minutes on the clock, Michael Kelly became the sixth player to see yellow, as the defender picked up a booking for a foul on Gordon.

The hosts opted to make their third and final change of the evening in the eighty-fifth minute, with Thomas Mehew the man to make way as Joshua Grant joined the game.

Moments after the change, the Saddlers almost all but secured victory, but after some good play from Lavery and Norman played Gordon in, the striker sent his effort sailing high over the crossbar.

Two minutes into extra time, Ayunga almost settled the game in favour of the hosts, but his right-footed effort from outside the box was blocked.

That would be the last real action of the match, and the referee drew an end to the contest with the scores tied at two-goals-apiece. A result which saw the sides head into a penalty shootout to decide which of them would leave with a bonus point.

Walsall went on to win the penalty shootout by four-goals-to-two, to take the bonus point, as Norman, McDonald, Lavery and Gordon slotted home, whilst Holden saw his spot-kicked saved. The hosts saw their first two shots on goal saved, as Rose got to both Kelly and Harries' efforts before Hare and Ayunga converted.

ROVERS
2 - 2
WALSALL
Mehew (16')
Ayunga (71')
Jules (29')
Gordon (64')
Kelly 
Harries 
Hare
Ayunga



PENALTIES


Norman
McDonald
Holden 
Lavery
Gordon
ATTENDANCE
N/A
REFEREE
TBC

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