WALSALL 2-1 SHREWSBURYWalsall kept their automatic promotion hopes alive with a nervy win over near-neighbours Shrewsbury.
Kieron Morris fired the Saddlers ahead with a crisp 11th-minute drive before Rico Henry’s deflected effort made it 2-0 at half-time.
Ex-Walsall full-back Mat Sadler's powerful header gave Shrewsbury hope but the hosts held on to close the gap on second-placed Burton to three points.
Head coach Jon Whitney made four changes to the team that lost comprehensively at Bradford on Saturday.
Jason Demetriou, Kieron Morris, Milan Lalkovic and Tom Bradshaw came in, with Andy Taylor, Liam Kinsella, Sam Mantom and Jordy Hiwula dropping to the bench.
That meant the Saddlers were set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Morris deployed in an unfamiliar central midfield role.
Relegation-troubled Shrewsbury, needing just one win to preserve their League One status, threatened first after about ten seconds.
The hosts were caught cold by the Shrews’ fast start, as Jean Louis Akpa Akpro burst into the box before shooting straight at Saddlers keeper Neil Etheridge.
Walsall responded positively, with Tom Bradshaw hooking an improvised volley wide from Milan Lalkovic’s near-post cross.
Then, Morris let fly with a firm 25-yard drive which skidded off the greasy surface and was spilled by visiting keeper Jayson Leutwiler.
Youngster Morris, traditionally a winger, was at the thick of the early action and opened the scoring for Walsall inside 11 minutes.
The 21-year-old collected possession just outside the box and arrowed an accurate right-footed strike beyond Leutwiler and into the bottom corner.
Walsall continued to stroke the ball around confidently, although chances – for either team – were now proving few and far between.
Shrewsbury almost scored an own goal on 38 minutes, as Zak Whitbread diverted Lalkovic’s cross goalwards but, fortunately for him, straight at Leutwiler.
But promotion-hunting Walsall doubled their advantage a minute before the break.
Henry carried the ball infield and hit a low, 20-yard drive which took a wicked deflection off a Shrewsbury defender and bobbled past the wrong-footed Leutwiler.
HALF-TIME: WALSALL 2-0 SHREWSBURY
With the words of Micky Mellon ringing in their ears, Shrewsbury started the second period in a much more purposeful manner.
And the Shrews halved the deficit on the hour mark, when Sadler buried a powerful far-post header past Etheridge from Andy Mangan’s pinpoint centre.
The buoyed visitors then went close to an equaliser, but Etheridge got down quickly to make a smart stop from Mangan’s side-footed effort.
Walsall looked to restore their two-goal advantage, with Lalkovic seeing a 25-yard shot parried by Leutwiler and Forde flashing a long-ranger wide.
It was now end-to-end. Bradshaw had two shots blocked from inside the penalty area, before Lalkovic fired straight at Leutwiler when well-placed.
On 70 minutes, Shrewsbury almost drew level as substitute Ian Black’s long-range drive deflected off Morris and clipped the top of the bar.
The Saddlers ended the match the stronger, with Sam Mantom, on as a 75th-minute substitute, firing narrowly wide from the edge of the area.
Another sub, Jordy Hiwula, could have wrapped up victory with a stoppage-time lob from Forde’s superb lofted pass, but Walsall held on.
FULL-TIME: WALSALL 2-1 SHREWSBURY
Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Henry, Chambers, Morris (Hiwula 88’), Forde, Sawyers, Lalkovic (Mantom 75’), Bradshaw (Cook 79’).
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Kinsella.
Attendance: 5,339 (696 Shrewsbury supporters).