THE SADDLERS recorded a third successive victory on the road with a hard-earned 2-1 win at Spotland.
An Andy Taylor volley and deflected Sam Mantom effort was enough to seal all three points in what was an exhilarating encounter with Keith Hill’s side.
Rochdale substitute Calvin Andrew bundled an effort over the line with ten mintes to go but Dean Smith’s men held on, despite a late aerial bombardment.
The win sees Dean Smith's men maintain an unbeaten start to the new season and propel the Saddlers to third in League One at this early stage.
From the kick-off the visitors fashioned the first chance of the game. Milan Lalkovic’s deflected cross skipped up off the greasy surface in front of Josh Lillis in the Rochdale goal.
Bradshaw was primed to pounce but the prolific frontman could only fire straight into the keeper’s midriff.
At the other end, a Donal McDermott diagonal ball drifted over Jim O’Connor and inches in front of Ian Henderson who was bearing down on goal.
The surface at Spotland aided an exhilarating tempo in the opening exchanges and it was the home side who were nearly the early beneficiaries.
Ian Henderson soon beat the offside trap and broke down the right. His square ball found Rhys Bennett who could only balloon over from 6-yards out though the linesman’s flag spared his blushes.
Paul Downing then found space inside the Dale box to head straight at Lillis before the home side hit back with a chance of their own.
The industrious Henderson skipped away from Downing to pull a ball back from the by-line. Etheridge got a fist on it but diverted the ball straight at Bennett, only for the ball to cannon off the tall midfielder and out for a goal kick.
The tempo showed no sign of stopping. Sam Mantom drilled a ball across the six-yard box on the 25-minute mark but couldn’t pick out a red shirt. Moments later he was again looking to play the provider.
His ball down the left found Lalkovic who cut back to Morris eight yards out. The youngster’s snapshot skidded agonisingly wide despite appeals for a corner.
The chances kept on coming with the Saddlers finishing a frenetic half with their best spell of the game.
Mantom was in the thick of the action once again and has his effort deflected into the keeper before Morris drove at the back four and fired wide of the near post.
HALF TIME: Rochdale 0-0 Walsall
Jason Demetriou provided the first moment of danger in the second period. The Cypriot international fizzed a ball across the box only for the outstretched leg of former Saddlers Olly Lancaster to deflect the ball out for a corner
The pace of the game was markedly slower in the opening minutes of the second half but Dean Smith’s men looked dangerous nonetheless. A deep Andy Taylor cross found Kieron Morris who darted in front of his marker to head wide form an acute angle.
The ball was in the back of the Walsall net on the hour mark. Peter Vincenti slid in at the back post to divert the ball past Etheridge but up went the flag to rescue the Saddlers.
It was panic stations again moments later. James O’Connor looked to head back to Neil Etheridge but put too much on the header. The Saddlers number one was forced to scuttle back towards his own goal and at full stretch turn it round the post.
The Rochdale storm forced Dean Smith to make a double substitution and moments later it paid off.
Andy Taylor picked up the ball on the half way line and after a couple of ricochets, continued his run into the box to volley home a Lalkovic pull back.
It was a move that was started and finished by the full back
The hosts were stunned and minutes later they were picking the ball out the net again. Romaine Sawyers drifted down the left and spotted Sam Mantom loitering on the edge of the box.
The St.Kitts and Nevis international pulled the ball back perfectly for Mantom to run on to the ball and put his laces through it. The effort took a huge deflection up and over Lillis in goal to double the Saddlers lead.
Dean Smith described Keith Hill as one of the best managers in the division and it was a masterstroke from the Rochdale manager that led to Dale’s goal.
Diminutive front man Ian Henderson shook the crossbar with a powerful header only for substitute Calvin Andrew to bundle over the line from close range. Etheridge was incensed with the linesman whose flag alerted the referee to the ball crossing the line. Game on.
The pressure was mounting in favour of the hosts. With five minutes remaining, the Saddlers were forced to withstand an aerial bombardment as Dale went in search of a late equaliser. Andrew, Henderson and Bunney all had efforts blocked by latch ditch defending.
The Saddlers fought off a late rally in the dying moments to keep the ball out the net and secure a thoroughly deserved three points.
Starting line-up: Etheridge, Demetriou, Downing, O’Connor, Taylor, Chambers©, Mantom, Flanagan, Morris, Lalkovic, Bradshaw