Rochdale 1 Walsall 2 - Report and pictures
Walsall secured their fifth win in six matches after battling their way to a 2-1 victory at Rochdale.
In front of 3,080 fans at Spotland, goals from Josh Ginnelly and Zeli Ismail saw the Saddlers secure another hard-earned win on the road.
Ginnelly put Dean Keates side ahead in the first half before substitute Ismail doubled their advantage before the break.
Callum Camps pulled a goal back for the Dale just 60 seconds later - with Ismail then sent off late on after picking up a second yellow card.
Walsall though defended like lions throughout and held on in the closing stages to continue their unbeaten start to the season.
In naming his starting line-up, boss Keates opted to stick with the team that registered a third straight victory by beating AFC Wimbledon.
Despite having recovered from a minor knock, Zeli Ismail had to make do with a place on the subs bench with Kieron Morris continuing on the right of midfield.
And that ensured the Saddlers lined up as expected with Morgan Ferrier partnering Andy Cook up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
Rochdale, who had conceded four in both their previous two outings at home, lined up in a 3-5-2 system with Aaron Wilbraham partnering Ian Henderson in attack.
Having been hammered at home by Barnsley on Tuesday, Rochdale entered the game with a point to prove.
And they started well with Walsall struggling to get on the ball in the opening 20 minutes.
For all their possession though, the Dale were finding it hard to create clear-cut chances - with a Henderson header, which glanced off the thigh of Jon Guthrie and into the side netting, the closest they came to opening the scoring.
Keates’s men had struggled to find their rhythm but their workrate - together with a touch of good fortune - brought them the lead just past the half hour mark.
Under pressure from Ferrier, defender Harrison McGahey played the ball back to Magnus Norman.
But with Cook charging in, the keeper panicked and only managed to find Ginnelly 20-yards from goal as he looked to play his way out of trouble.
And the winger then kept his composure to fire in a low drive which took a deflection before nestling into the net.
Rochdale responded with Jimmy McNulty heading wide after Leahy had given away a free-kick on the left.
But from that point, the Saddlers saw out the half relatively comfortably with Ferrier switching to the left of midfield and Ginnelly moving inside in a 4-5-1 formation.
Keates made a change at the break with Ismail replacing goal-scorer Ginnelly.
And they started the half well with Ferrier and Leahy both sending in dangerous crosses before Ismail tested Norman from 20-yards.
Rochdale switched Calvin Andrew for Ollie Rathbone in the 55th minute in a move that saw them switch to a 3-4-3 formation.
And the striker came close to pulling his side level when he headed narrowly wide following an excellent Matt Done cross.
Overall, the second half had proved a scrappy affair with not a lot of quality on show.
In the 75th minute though, the Dale should have pulled level when Walsall could only half clear a corner.
The ball fell for MJ Williams 10-yards out. But, despite being centrally placed, the midfielder blazed a strike over when he had to hit the target.
From that point a quiet game sprang to life with the Saddlers doubling their lead through a brilliant Ismail goal.
After initially tricking his way into the box, the winger looked as though he had ran himself into trouble.
But he produced more magic to dance past another defender before then firing past the on-rushing Norman.
Within 60 seconds though, Rochdale had pulled a goal back when Andrew headed against the post only for the ball to fall for Camps who fired in from close range.
Walsall tried to be on the front foot as they looked to then see out the game.
And they almost got a third when Cook turned away from two men before flashing a strike inches wide.
Keates’ men were dealt a huge blow in the 86th minute though when Ismail harshly received a second yellow card for handball.
The winger had earlier been booked for needlessly kicking away a free-kick.
From that point, Keates men had to dig even deeper with Jack Fitzwater and Isaiah Osbourne both making brilliant blocks as the team defended for their lives.
And incredibly, it was the Saddlers who then created a glorious chance to put the game to bed with Cook again turning in the box before firing a strike into the face of Norman.
Now in six minutes of added on time, Rochdale began flinging the ball forward.
But a long-distance Bran Inman strike, that was comfortably claimed by Roberts, was the closest they came.
Rochdale (3-5-2): Norman, Rafferty, McNulty, McGahey, Williams, Camps, Rathbone (Andrew 55), Done (Ntlhe 85), Perkins (Inman 68), Wilbraham, Henderson.
Subs not used: Moore, Delaney, Randall, Cannon.
Walsall (4-4-2): Roberts, Devlin, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Leahy, Morris (Wilson 90), Dobson, Osbourne, Ginnelly (Ismail 46), Cook, Ferrier (Gordon 67).
Subs not used: Dunn, Kinsella, Kouhyar, Candlin.