Salford City strengthened their grip on a play-off position with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Walsall.
Following last week’s shock 3-2 defeat to Crawley, a win here was imperative, and the players responded, despite a few scares late in the first half.
The win pushes the Ammies to within six points of third-placed Carlisle, who occupy the final automatic promotion spot.
Salford will now enter a run of three extremely winnable fixtures that should allow them to consolidate their play-off position ahead of a looming clash with fellow promotion hopefuls Swindon in mid-February.
Manager Neil Wood will be expecting at least seven points out of the available nine, with home games against relegation-threatened Rochdale and Harrogate sandwiching a slightly tougher challenge against an in-form Tranmere side at Prenton Park.
Wood will doubtless be pleased with the way his side started here, snatching the lead after just five minutes when Matt Smith rose highest to meet Ibou Touray’s cross from the right flank, powering his header past Owen Evans in the Walsall goal.
The early goal gave the hosts control of the game, and saw Smith notch his sixth goal of the season, with only Conor McAleny (7) having more goals in League Two for Salford this season.
Salford were happy to invite the Walsall pressure once they had the lead, and the Midlands club were more than happy to oblige, spurning a number of chances before half-time.
Alex Cairns pulled off an outstanding save just before the break, when confusion in the box allowed a free kick to drop perfectly for Jamille Matt to strike as he fell, but the Salford stopper was equal to it.
The hosts again almost threw away their lead just a minute later, with a succession of miscued clearances providing the Saddlers with three glorious chances.
Emmanuel Monthe smashed his shot straight at Cairns, then kicking the air with the goal at his mercy on the rebound; allowing Cairns enough time to recover and scramble the ball away at the second time of asking.
The second half remained an entertaining affair, with half chances for both sides, and fans in the stadium also got a first glimpse at loan signing Louie Barry who came on for the final minute for his first taste of League Two action.
The win allows Salford to put last week’s disappointment behind them and provides a foundation on which the side can begin to build some momentum for the final few months of the season.
3 Carlisle 28 +10 51
4 Northampton 27 +14 49
5 Salford 28 +10 45
6 Swindon 27 +8 42
7 Mansfield 27 +4 42
Possession: 54% – 46%
Shots: 14 – 17
Shots on Target: 2 – 6
xG: 1.02 – 1.49
Corners: 2 – 4