Walsall won for the first time under Brian Dutton with a deserved 2-1 victory over play-off chasing Forest Green Rovers in the Sky Bet League Two after a hard-fought performance by the Saddlers.
Rory Holden's fifth goal of the season early in the game put Walsall ahead in a contest they were the better team throughout. Josh Gordon and Tyreik Wright squandered opportunities themselves before James Clarke made it 2-0 in the second half with a striker-like finish in the penalty area.
Forest Green had Jordan Moore-Taylor half the deficit in the 72 minute, but they couldn't find the equalising goal to deny the Saddlers their first win since January's 3-1 win over Port Vale.
Story of the match
In the opening seconds of the game, Forest Green were provided with a great opportunity to storm into an early lead when Mat Sadler's attempted clearance was blocked by Jake Young, but the forward didn't take up the opportunity and Sadler recovered well.
Despite scoring only six goals in their 13 games since Dutton took charge at the club, Walsall went ahead after five minutes when Holden composed finish beat Luke McGee.
Emmanuel Osadebe played a quick one-two with Gordon before feeding the ball to Holden in acres of space for his fourth goal of the season and his first since damaging his lateral collateral ligament in December.
The Saddlers' opener didn't come by luck, with them looking confident going forward through Gordon, Osadebe and Wright whilst remaining compact and solid at the back against a side challenging for promotion.
Mark Cooper's side, winless in their last five games, looked like a team depleted of confidence in the West Midlands. The absence of Jamille Matt leaves just Jake Young and Aaron Collins in attack, both struggling to beat Sadler and Clarke.
Decisions from referee Ross Joyce were distinctly frustrating Cooper and the Rovers squad in the first half, with the midfield battles of Ebou Adams and Moore-Taylor against Liam Kinsella and Sam Perry providing some tasty challenges.
Just one minute in the second half and the hosts should have extended their lead. A good break-up of play from Kinsella and Holden ended with Max Melbourne's cross finding Gordon in the box, but the forward curled his effort just over.
Another chance came their way a few minutes later when Wright found some space on the right and delivered a great ball for Osadebe at the back post but the 24-year-old fired well over.
Forest Green were struggling to contain Walsall after the interval, with goalscorer Holden pulling the strings in the hole behind Gordon. The Irishman excellently played Wright through on goal with the outside of his right foot, but the Aston Villa-loanee was tracked down by Baily Cargill at the last minute.
The second goal of the game finally came, for Walsall through skipper Clarke. A scramble in the Rovers penalty area, which saw two penalty appeals from Walsall turned down, concluded in Osadebe knocking the ball down for the defender to smash into the back of the net.
Against the run of play, Forest Green restored their chance of getting anything out of the game when Moore-Taylor headed the ball in at the front post, his first goal for the club.
There were eight minutes of additional time as Walsall held on for dear life. Odin Bailey and Aaron Collins had chances to level the scoring, but both failed to test Jack Rose.
The win means the Saddlers are nine points clear of the dreaded relegation zone with six games remaining after Southend United dropped points against Crawley Town.
Rory Holden- Walsall
Starting for the first time since December, Holden was by far the stand-out player on a chilly afternoon in Walsall. His delivery, movement and hard work was a key clog in the victory, a telling reason to why the club find themselves at the foot end of the League Two play-offs.
With six games remaining, starting on Tuesday against Tranmere Rovers, Dutton will want to keep the playmaker fit to ensure of a comfortable finish to a difficult campaign for the club.