Bury 1 Walsall 2
Controversy clouded Walsall's latest night of triumph as Richard Money's runaway leaders came from behind to stretch their lead at the top of League Two to nine points.
The Saddlers, unbeaten in 12 league games, were trailing to an early second-half strike from Bury defender Paul Scott. Then Ian Roper's equaliser was allowed to stand, despite suggestions that the ball may not actually have crossed the line and the Saddlers then went on to win it six minutes from time when Hector Sam headed home player-coach Mark Kinsella's corner.
But, on a freezing cold night in north Manchester, Walsall manager Money was unmoved, claiming: "We thoroughly deserved the result.
"We had a great motivation. We could hear them saying in their dressing room before the start that we wouldn't fancy it here on a night like this on a bad pitch. But it's on nights like this that you show what you're made of and I'm really proud of the lads.
"I know Clayton Ince has kept us in it with one key save, but we've twice hit the woodwork and their keeper's made four great saves."
Following the training ground injuries that had deprived him of Dean Keates and skipper Michael Dobson, Money had been forced to make a double switch in midfield.
Daniel Fox replaced Dobson, while Tony Bedeau was Keates' stand-in in a right-side role.
It was nearly 20 minutes before either side managed a worthwhile shot and when it did come that was from Bury's David Buchanan, forcing Ince to make a diving save low to his right.
Walsall immediately responded with Scott Dann's header from Kinsella's corner, parried by Andy Warrington before being scrambled away. And the Bury keeper then had to unfurl an even better save to turn Martin Butler's header onto the post, from Mark Wright's left-wing cross.
Dann was then just wide with another header from an outswinging Kinsella corner. But the chance count for the first half was restored to parity when Ince had to react smartly to tip John Fitzgerald's shot round the post.
Former Walsall striker Andy Bishop, the Shakers' ten-goal top scorer, wasted a great chance to fire the home side shortly after the restart. But, after Butler had been denied by another good save from Warrington and Mark Wright had headed over, Bury went in front.
Left-back Thomas Kennedy popped up on the right by-line to deliver a low cross and fellow full-back Scott was there to turn it in from six yards.
Half-time sub Craig Pead almost hit back by smacking the left upright and the luckless Butler, without a goal now since mid-September, had a chance to respond with a close-range header. But, after Ince had kept his side in it with another fine save to deny Bishop's header, Walsall finally got the equaliser they deserved — even if it appeared tinged with fortune.
It was another Kinsella corner that proved the supply line for Roper, whose initial header was saved. But, when he followed up with the rebound, Buchanan's goal-line clearance was adjudged too late, on the say so of the stand-in linesman.
Pictorial evidence suggested that the officials may have got it wrong, but it turned the contest.
After Kinsella's long-range special flew just wide, the former Irish international veteran turned creator again for the Walsall winner. This time, he pinged another quality corner from the left and substitute Sam was on the end of it to bundle the ball home at the far post.
In the last minute of injury time, there was still the extraordinary sight of the now green-shirted Bishop, who had gone in goal for the last few minutes to replace the injured Warrington, going up front to try his luck with a deadball effort from the edge of the box. But, despite his long run-up, that crashed into the wall, giving Walsall the toughest three points of the season. Scorers: Scott (52) 1-0; Roper (74) 1-1; Sam (84) 1-2
BURY (4-4-2): Warrington (Speight 86); Scott, Challinor, Fitzgerald (Brass ht), Kennedy; Pugh, Mattis, Baker, Buchanan; Hurst (Blinkhorn 59), Bishop. Subs: Barry-Murphy, Turnbull.
WALSALL (4-4-2): Ince; Westwood, Roper, Dann, Taylor; Bedeau (Pead ht), Kinsella, Fox, M Wright (Gerrard 87); Butler, T Wright (Sam 64). Subs: Bossu (gk), Demontagnac
Referee: Jon Moss (Yorkshire)