Rochdale 0 Walsall 1
Five players and a manager made their League Two debuts for Walsall in this impressive win over a hard-working if rather limited Rochdale side.
They can all look back on a confident start with great satisfaction as the joint favourites for promotion collected maximum points, much to the delight of more than 1,000 travelling fans hoping they have seen the end of two years of misery.
Much credit is due to manager Richard Money for the way he dismantled the failed outfit that slid effortlessly to relegation last May. He has recruited well despite having been out of the country for three years and has got his men organised.
The five players making their debuts on the pitch were goalkeeper Clayton Ince, Australian centre-back Allan Picken, midfielder Michael Dobson and strikers Martin Butler and Hector Sam.
Each man made a significant impact, but perhaps the greatest praise should go to Picken. The man from Down Under only landed in England on Tuesday after being bought from Newcastle Jets, and was plunged straight in at the deep end becasue Ian Roper and Chris Westwood were suspended. Picken quickly demonstrated his ability in the air and the confidence to get the ball down and play even when under pressure. Even a rather harsh booking didn't spoil his day.
Behind him, former Coventry keeper Ince handled the ball particularly well and pulled off one magnificent save in the 52nd minute, keeping out Ricky Lambert's fierce free-kick which was hurtling towards the top corner of the net.
That incident came just four minutes after the Saddlers had taken the lead, Mark Wright finding Sam whose deft flick released Butler to shoot low past Matthew Gilks and claim the winner in his second spell with the club.
To complete Money's nap hand of new men, rugged Dobson, signed from Brent-ford, was made captain and responded with a powerful display in midfield.
Money was naturally delighted to open his personal account with a win, and he said: "To be honest, not just because we got the three points, I thought the performance was absolutely excellent...top drawer.
"We passed the ball well, our movement was good, we looked dangerous and played with shape and discipline. Rochdale defended really manfully in the first half, but I said to the boys at half-time that the opposition were stretched to the maximum and we just had to keep driving forward.
"Now we want to get the home crowd with us, and if everyone who left this stadium passes on the message of how we played we shall get the supporters back again".
With suspended centrebacks Roper and Westwood available for tomorrow night's home clash with Stockport County, Money now has the kind of problem most managers enjoy, but he is unlikley to make changes if Mark Kinsella recovers from a knock on the foot.
Kinsella and Dobson stamped their authority on midfield right from the kick-off and Rochdale realised they couldn't match the Saddlers for quality.
Butler's cleverly created and well taken goal in the 48th minute always seemed likely to be the winner, but in future they will need to show more determination in putting games like this well out of the opposition's reach, because the Dale could have pinched a point had they taken one of their chances. In added time at the end of the first half Walsall could have scored three times. Gilks pulled off one particulalry fine save to keep out a cracking header from Anthony Gerrard - the cousin of England star Steve Gerrard.