Ray Graydon, Walsall's manager, decided upon a change of routine for his lads this week, taking them out cycling in the Derbyshire hills. Judging by last night's performance, the fresh air did the Saddlers nothing but good as they secured a free-wheeling victory which lifted them away from the First Division relegation area.
Two goals in the space of six minutes midway through the first half were enough to put a spoke in the visitors' wheel, although Forest, with just one win in their previous seven away games, were a side just waiting to be unseated once again.
For all that, Forest began at a brisk enough pace to suggest that they were about to reproduce a little of their home form, which has been good enough to secure them a mid-table place. Twice in the space of a minute Jack Lester disrupted the home defence, shooting just over and then obliging James Walker to save smartly with his legs.
When Jim Brennan drew more emergency action from Walker a few minutes afterwards, it seemed that Paul Hart's men were on the verge of a breakthrough, but their defence, unsettled by the graceful tormenting of Walsall's Darren Byfield, was about to collapse.
Byfield's flashing near-post header after 24 minutes, which went narrowly wide, presaged the home side's best period. After 26 minutes an acute pass from the defender Tony Barras found Pedro Matias in unaccountable space in the inside-right channel. The midfielder had enough time to switch the ball to his favoured left foot before curling a shot beyond Darren Ward.
Five minutes later another electric break by Byfield sent him clear of the back line, but a momentary delay in shooting allowed Ward to block his effort. But it was merely delaying the inevitable – and only by a minute. After a smart exchange of passes on the edge of the box, Byfield's ball in from the right was turned in at the near post by the burly Brett Angell.
Forest made an effort to recover something from the evening – Zigor Aranalde cleared off the line seven minutes before the break, and David Johnson headed against the bar after 51 minutes – but by the end they looked increasingly desperate as they sought to end a scoring drought that goes back more than six hours.
"We had a plan to make it difficult for Forest," Graydon said. "And it worked a treat."
The Walsall programme, noting that the home side had won 2-0 and drawn 2-2 in their two previous games, put an outstanding spin on those statistics. "It all means that the unbeaten run we have been craving has started," said the programme editor. Hopefulness of a high order. But seven points out of nine sounds a lot more realistic.
Goals: Matias (26) 1-0; Angell (32) 2-0.
Walsall: (3-5-2): Walker; Gadsby, Barras, Carbon (Roper, 49); Wrack, Bennett, Thogersen, Matias, Aranalde; Byfield (Leitão, 74), Angell (Simpson, 66). Substitutes not used: Herivelto, Biancalani.
Nottingham Forest: (3-5-2): Ward; Edwards (Vaughan, 65), Scimeca, Brennan; Louise-Jean, Gray (Harewood, 73), Bart-Williams, Williams, Rogers; Lester, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Roche (gk), Summerbee, Bopp.
Referee: A Kaye (Wakefield).
Booking: Walsall: Carbon.
Man of the match: Byfield.
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