Zeli Ismail scored and was later sent off as ten-man Walsall moved up to fourth with a hard-fought victory at Rochdale.
Needing a response after their 4-0 midweek battering by Barnsley, Keith Hill’s Rochdale displayed plenty of attacking intent in the opening exchanges.
Dale dominated the early possession, forcing the Saddlers to defend deep inside their own half, but were unable to manufacture any clear goalscoring opportunities.
Callum Camps’ long-range shot sailed harmlessly wide and Jon Guthrie came agonisingly close to an own goal as he diverted Ian Henderson’s flick-on just past the post.
Walsall gradually began to gain a foothold and took the lead in slightly fortuitous circumstances just after the half-hour mark.
Under pressure from Morgan Ferrier, keeper Magnus Norman passed the ball straight to Josh Ginnelly, who side-footed a first-time shot into the bottom corner via a deflection off MJ Williams.
Rochdale’s response was muted – their only meaningful attempt before half-time being a deflected Camps volley from a half-cleared corner which Liam Roberts held comfortably.
The Saddlers looked the more threatening at the start of the second half.
Ferrier burst forward down the right but his cross was too far ahead of Andy Cook, while Zeli Ismail drew a regulation save from Norman at his near post.
The home side’s first chance of the second period came on 68 minutes, substitute Calvin Andrew nodding Matthew Done’s cross back across goal but wide of the far post.
Rochdale should have equalised shortly after but Williams smashed his half-volley over the bar when unmarked inside the box.
Dale were left to rue that miss as Walsall made it 2-0 on 78 minutes.
Josh Gordon fed fellow substitute Zeli Ismail, who showed great composure to cut inside his man before finishing left footed into the roof of the net.
But the Saddlers’ lead was halved lasted barely a minute, Camps pulling one back with a tap-in after an Aaron Wilbraham header had come back off the post.
Buoyed by the goal, Rochdale almost equalised moments later but Camps’ curling effort was parried by Roberts.
Cook went close to restoring Walsall’s two-goal advantage, turning his defender before firing narrowly wide of the far post.
The visitors were reduced to ten men with four minutes left when Ismail was shown red for two bookable offences.
But despite a late Rochdale onslaught, the Saddlers held firm to record a fourth consecutive win in all competitions.
Team (4-4-2): Roberts; Devlin, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Leahy; Morris, Osbourne, Dobson, Ginnelly (Ismail 45’); Cook, Ferrier (Gordon 66’).
Subs not used: Dunn, Kinsella, Kouhyar, Candlin, Wilson.
Attendance: 3,080 (566 Saddlers fans).