Relieved Walsall boss Brian Dutton hailed the impact of the returning Rory Holden after the playmaker helped end a 14-match win drought with a 2-1 victory over fading Forest Green.
Holden’s cool early finish set Walsall on the way to a vital win that moved them nine points clear of danger and gave interim boss Dutton his first victory since taking over in February.
Emmanuel Osadebe set up Holden’s opener and guided a cross into the path of James Clarke for Walsall’s second as the Saddlers held out despite Jordan Moore-Taylor pulling one back.
It was Holden’s first start for almost four months after a knee injury and the Saddlers’ sorry sequence of results without him had dragged them into trouble.
Dutton said: “We’ve won nine games this season and eight of them have been with Rory Holden in the team so it’s not rocket science – if you get your best players out there, you win football matches.
“Rory is so, so bright. He’s not a player you need to coach. You put him out on the pitch and he makes good decisions.
“He’s a breath of fresh air, someone the team has been crying out for, a leader, a creative spirit. He improves the team vastly.
“That was a massive three points for us in terms of what we need to do to get safe, we are not far away now. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re not there and we can’t get complacent and slack but we can see the finishing line in sight. Hopefully this win gives us a bit more confidence and belief and relieves a bit of tension.”
Forest Green, meanwhile, suffered a fifth defeat in six games and boss Mark Cooper admitted they are missing leading scorer Jamille Matt as play-off rivals breathe down their necks.
He said: “In the last 20 minutes when we were 2-0 down and there was no pressure, we really started to play and should probably have equalised.
“There are one or two experienced players sprinkled in there but it’s a really young group and their confidence is affected.
“We are trying to give them all the belief and all the love we can but they have to grab a result from somewhere. Three points can change everything and make it look a different picture.
“For 30 games we played the same system and the same team until we got our injuries and we were going along really nicely. At the moment we’re having to chop and change because of injuries and form.
“When you take your 16-goal top scorer and a six-foot-four midfield player in Dan Sweeney out of the team, it’s a blow and we’ve not recovered from it. We have to find a way.”