Rochdale kicked off 2017 in fine style with a 2-0 victory over Walsall at the Banks’s Stadium.
Ian Henderson opened the scoring midway through the first half when he turned Joe Rafferty’s shot over the line at the back post.
Henderson had another disallowed shortly into the second half, but Dale did double their lead through Joe Thompson’s close range finish, after fine work from substitute Harrison McGahey.
There were chances to make it three but it stayed 2-0, sealing Dale’s fifth consecutive league win and the perfect start to the calendar year.
Thompson replaced Steven Davies in the only change to the starting eleven from Friday’s win over Shrewsbury Town.
The opening exchanges belonged to the home side, who had chances to take the lead inside the first fifteen minutes.
Joe Edwards sent a volley from outside the area well over after a free-kick had been partially cleared, before Conrad Logan was forced into his first save of the afternoon a minute later.
Kieron Morris cut inside onto his left foot from the right flank and drilled a low shot to the near post, where Logan tipped the ball away for a corner.
The Saddlers had a golden chance to break the deadlock in the 14th minute when they launched a quick counter attack. Flo Cuvelier squared to Amadou Bakayoko who was on his own in the penalty area, but with Logan stranded at the front post the striker sent his shot high over the empty goal.
Following that let off, Keith Hill’s men found their rhythm and could have taken the lead through Thompson’s looping effort. Rafferty’s free-kick fell to Thompson who lifted the ball over Neil Etheridge, but the attempt was cleared off the line.
Dale did take the lead with their next effort though, thanks to Henderson’s goal scoring instincts. Joe Bunney’s cross was patted down into the path of Rafferty, whose fizzing effort was turned over the line by
Henderson, after he had ghosted into space at the far post.
The visitors continued to create the majority of chances, and almost had a second shortly afterwards when Oliver Rathbone’s volley was deflected and looped just wide of goal.
Henderson had a great chance for his and Dale’s second on the half hour mark when Matthew Lund broke through midfield. He found Thompson on the right who pulled the ball back to Henderson on the edge of the area, but the scorer of Dale’s first sent this effort well over the crossbar.
Logan was called into action again when Bakayoko found the run of Cuvelier, but his shot was saved by the body of the Dale stopper.
There was a scramble in the Walsall goalmouth when Thompson’s shot was blocked by a body on the floor, before Lund’s shot was deflected out for a corner.
Henderson had Dale’s first effort of the second half when he fired well over from distance, and he thought he had put Dale ahead four minutes later, before referee Sebastian Stockbridge chalked the goal off.
Callum Camps’ fizzing free-kick was beaten away by Etheridge, and when the ball was sent back into the area Henderson turned the ball over the line from close range. However, he was deemed to have done so with the use of his hand and was booked for it.
The home side began to see more of the ball around the hour mark but were restricted to efforts from range by Dale. Scott Laird’s curling free-kick fell wide of Logan’s left post, before Simeon Jackson’s effort from the edge of the area flew well over.
McGahey was introduced for the injured Bunney in the 68th minute, and he was instrumental in Dale’s second goal. He exchanged a sharp one-two with Rathbone on the edge of the area before squaring the ball into the middle, where it fell to Thompson who turned the ball over the line in front of the 472 travelling Dale supporters.
Andrew blazed an effort well wide after finding space outside the area, as Dale continued to push on in search of a third.
Walsall substitute Franck Moussa then had a similar effort well wide for the hosts but the chances of a comeback were disappearing by the second as Keith Hill’s men controlled the play.
Thompson and Rathbone were placed by Davies and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing late on to standing ovations, whilst Logan kept his best save of the afternoon for stoppage time when he tipped Adam Chambers’ powerful effort over the bar.
That preserved Dale’s clean sheet and two goal scoreline, sealing a fifth consecutive league win and a perfect start to 2017.