Not long ago, Walsall and Rochdale had represented shining examples of how to develop young talent and play good football at League One level, whilst achieving low-budgeted sustainability.

Having revised their outlook in certain departments, the challenge to these two clubs is to secure survival this season and then regain their status as top half contenders – but who will come out on top when they meet in the Black Country?

Andy to Cook up a classic?

Earlier in the season, Andy Cook did a lot of selfless work; his job was about bravely winning headers from deep-flighted crosses and battling with centre-backs to allow other players, namely Morgan Ferrier, to grab the headlines.

Supporters certainly recognized his work, with some finding it refreshing to see the first old-school target man the club has had since the days of Andy Rammell.

More recently though, Ferrier has been hindered by injury and inconsistency while his replacement, Josh Gordon, has not been quite as productive as hoped.

Cook has therefore had to step up in a goalscoring sense, but he has been helped by the arrival of Matt Jarvis, on loan from Norwich, who has managed to deliver balls into the cross from further up the pitch, so he has been able to attempt goal with his headers rather than just do the spadework.

An alternative strike-partner to Cook has arrived in the form of Aramide Oteh, who has joined on loan this week and comes with very positive reviews from QPR.

The exciting 20-year-old prospect has been prolific in Under-23s football; he has reasonable touch and movement, as well as pace and power, which gives him the confidence to take players on, making him potentially the perfect foil for an industrious target man in Cook.

Dale’s dubious defending

Rochdale did not do too much wrong in last week’s 2-1 loss at Barnsley; Keith Hill’s side were reasonably well organized at Oakwell and the defeat had more to do with their opponents ruthlessness in the final third than anything else.

Looking at the bigger picture however, defeat means Dale have now shipped an alarming 61 goals in 30 league games this season; only Fulham and Notts County have a worse defensive record in the top four divisions of English football.

Their Expected Goals Against record over the last eight games does not make much prettier reading at an average of 1.75xGA.

A big problem has been the inconsistency between the sticks, with goalkeepers Josh Lillis, Magnus Norman and Brendan Moore – the latter now at Atlanta United – all making high-profile errors.

The situation was hardly helped in January, when they lost their then-only senior right-back in Joe Rafferty, their most adaptable midfielder in Andy Cannon and their best ball-playing centre-back in Harrison McGahey.

Although those players have been promptly replaced by Ryan McLaughlin, Ethan Hamilton and Ethan Ebanks-Landell respectively, their departures highlight two things.

Firstly, it is slightly revealing that first team players wanted to leave the club mid-season; Dale have always had the issue of losing key men to bigger-budgeted competitors but since Matty Done went to Sheffield United in 2015, none had gone in January.

Secondly, it shows that the club have not handled contract situations particularly well and thus have been forced to sell players below their true value.

With long-term chairman Chris Dunphy retiring in late-December and fans reserving judgement on replacement Andrew Kilpatrick, there are areas of uncertainty on and off the field.

Saddlers to fire?

Rochdale possess a clinical finisher in Ian Henderson, who has dug them out of the mire on a few occasions.

The ever-reliable veteran has long reached double-figures for Dale for a sixth consecutive season – he is now League One’s joint-top scorer with 15 goals – and his ruthless instincts mean the Dale’s attack has drawn just seven league blanks this season.

While it is prudent to side with a Walsall outfit who average an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 54ef9de9b6b89ae8741f566ab7f58c50f0e39ac2a} over the last eight games, there is more value in doing so based not on what they can achieve defensively, but on what Cook, Oteh and Jarvis can conjure up going forward.


Walsall to score Over 1.5 goals

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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