Henderson's late free kick seals three precious points
Substitute Conor Henderson struck a dramatic late winner as Reds earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Walsall in Sky Bet League One at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
The former Arsenal midfielder, who came on midway through the second half, scored his first goal for the club in the 89th minute when he curled a free kick from 25 yards over the defensive wall and into the top corner after he had been brought down by Adam Chambers.
It was perhaps harsh on Walsall, who had enough chances to have picked up three points but their finishing was disappointing and when they did get efforts on target they found Jamie Ashdown in superb form, the ex-Leeds stopper making two excellent saves from Romaine Sawyers in the second half.
There were two changes to the side that lost to Notts County on Saturday. Jamie Ashdown returned in goal and skipper Josh Simpson started only his third game of a hitherto injury-ravaged season.
Walsall began brightly and forced three early corners before Andy Taylor threaded a shot through a crowded box which hit the side netting with 10 minutes played. Taylor then struck a free kick from 30 yards over the wall but straight into the arms of Ashdown.
Reds had struggled to get into the game but they were gifted an opening in the 19th minute when Paul Downing’s stray pass was intercepted by Lewis Young who held off a defender but his low shot was comfortably held by Saddlers’ stopper Richard O’Donnell.
Walsall ought to have scored after 27 minutes. A clever back heel by Romaine Sawyers put Anthony Forde in space 12 yards out but he blasted his right-foot shot wide of the post.
There was plenty of endeavour from both sides but Walsall looked the more threatening as they continually exploited the space between Reds’ midfield and back four and when James Baxendale ran 50 yards to tee up Sawyer he should have hit the target from 15 yards but as Lanre Oyebanjo came across to cover he sliced his effort wide of the left-hand post.
The home side had a let-off early in the second half when Andy Chambers lifted as shot over from inside the six-yard box when, once again, he should have got his effort on target. From the resultant corner brother James twisted in the air but directed his free header wide of the post.
Ashdown made his best save so far on 55 minutes to keep out Sawyer’s powerful angled drive after Walsall broke down the right and four minutes later when Elliott failed to clear his lines Ashdown made another good save to deny Sawyer and Downing could only side-foot the rebound wide of goal.
Reds briefly threatened when Young won a corner. The flag kick was cleared as far as Dean Leacock but his volley was never seriously testing O’Donnell, who’d had a quiet game thus far.
John Gregory made his first change on 67 minutes with Conor Henderson replacing Jimmy Smith and further alternations followed with Bobson Bawling and Matt Harrold coming on for Simpson and Izale McLeod.
The changes did give Reds some fresh impetus but they were let off again with six minutes to go when Mathieu Manset teed up fellow sub Ashley Grimes 15 yards out but he side-footed well over the bar.
But with two minutes to go Reds struck. HENDERSON was brought down and made Walsall pay, striking the free kick over the defensive wall and into the top left-hand corner with O’Donnell helpless.
Reds negotiated five minutes of stoppage time and a crowd of 2,204 could celebrate a welcome win.