WALSALL 3-1 FLEETWOODWalsall eased to a comfortable victory over struggling Fleetwood to take the League One automatic promotion race to the final day.
The Saddlers stormed out of the blocks, with Tom Bradshaw’s sweeping finish and Paul Downing’s powerful volley making it 2-0 inside 18 minutes.
Romaine Sawyers drilled home a third after the break, before substitute Devante Cole curled in a late consolation for the visitors.
Walsall must now beat Port Vale on the season’s final day and hope Burton lose at Doncaster, with a three-goal swing, to finish in the top two.
Jon Whitney’s men were unchanged from the side that beat local-rivals Shrewsbury 2-1 last Tuesday.
Knowing only a victory would keep their top two hopes alive, Walsall made a dream start, scoring inside two minutes.
Jason Demetriou traded passes with Anthony Forde down the right and delivered an inviting cross into the middle towards Bradshaw.
The striker swung his right foot at the ball and connected perfectly, sweeping a stunning first-time effort beyond the helpless Chris Maxwell.
It was a magnificent goal and Walsall were soon on the hunt for a second.
Demetriou tried his luck from range, unleashing a blistering right-footed strike which whistled just wide.
The full-back then saw a volleyed attempt blocked, while Bradshaw headed straight at Maxwell from a Kieron Morris centre.
Bradshaw continued to cause alarm in the visiting ranks, steering an angled drive wide after latching onto Neil Etheridge’s clearance.
Walsall’s dominance was absolute and on 18 minutes they doubled their advantage with a rare set-piece goal.
Downing escaped his marker from an in-swinging Forde corner and, at the front post, sent a powerful volley high into the roof of Maxwell’s net.
The Saddlers pressure was relentless, with Milan Lalkovic then cutting the ball back for Morris to fire over from the edge of the box.
It had been a nightmare opening half-hour for Steven Pressley’s Fleetwood, who needed just a point to all but preserve their League One status.
The relegation-haunted Cod Army finally threatened on 34 minutes, Nick Haughton testing Etheridge with a central long-range effort.
The home stopper then tipped Amari’i Bell’s near-post drive wide, before James Ryan volleyed off target from the resulting corner.
Walsall soon regained control and ended the half on the front foot.
Romaine Sawyers’ fierce strike looked to be heading for the far corner but was diverted wide by his teammate, Bradshaw.
Forde then almost made it 3-0, his 30-yard free-kick deflecting off the wall and forcing Maxwell into a spectacular one-handed save.
HALF-TIME: WALSALL 2-0 FLEETWOOD
Fleetwood started the second period the brighter, with Antoni Sarcevic and Haughton each working Etheridge.
The hosts soon regained the initiative, with Demetriou’s whipped cross just eluding Bradshaw, who then headed over from Forde’s subsequent set-piece.
Just before the hour-mark, Walsall put the result beyond doubt.
Morris teed up Sawyers, 20 yards out, to drill a low right-footed strike in off the post for his first goal since October.
It was very nearly 4-0 just four minutes later but Maxwell somehow kept out Bradshaw’s clever close-range flick from Forde’s corner.
Whitney’s charges continued to press.
Mantom’s deflected effort was comfortably held by Maxwell and Marcus Nilsson made a crucial, last-ditch tackle to deny Bradshaw a shot at goal.
Fleetwood, though, reduced the deficit with six minutes remaining, when Cole curled a right-footed effort beyond Etheridge.
The visitors could have made it 3-2 moments later, but Ball’s audacious 30-yard lob was tipped over by the back-peddling Etheridge.
FULL-TIME: WALSALL 3-1 FLEETWOOD
Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Henry, Chambers, Morris (Mantom 64’), Sawyers (Cook 85’), Forde, Lalkovic (Hiwula 72’), Bradshaw.
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Kinsella.
Attendance: 6,628 (204 Fleetwood supporters).