Lee Hughes' early strike was enough for Notts County to secure a 1-0 win over Walsall this evening.
The striker got Notts off to the perfect when his stunning third minute hit rocketed into the bottom corner. Further efforts from Neal Bishop and Ben Burgess came close to doubling the Magpies' lead, which was fully deserved at the break.
The Saddlers offered more going forward after the interval and even had the ball in the net. However, Manny Smith's close-range header was pulled back for a foul on Stuart Nelson.
Still, it was County that produced the better of the openings and they were unfortunate not to add to Hughes' first half finish. The Wheelbarrow Song was belted out in the final moments of the game and preceded a huge reception for the team, as the final whistle blew.
Martin Allen made three changes from the side that took to the field against Stevenage in the FA Cup, with Jeff Hughes, Julian Kelly and Jonathan Forte dropping out of the starting 11. There was a place for Forte on the bench but the other two were not named in the squad.
Kieron Freeman, who was cup-tied at the weekend, returned at right-back, whilst Jon Harley slotted in at left-back, allowing Alan Sheehan to take up a more advanced role on the left side of midfield. Burgess was the final new inclusion and he lined up in attack, alongside Hughes, for his first start of 2012.
Notts were aiming to record their first league win of 2012, having not picked up three points since the 3-2 triumph over Scunthorpe at the end of November. The most recent trip to the Banks's Stadium - a convincing 3-0 victory - brought back some good memories but, as Bishop made clear in his pre-match interview on Magpie Player, a win of any margin would have been greatly welcomed.
Ahead of kick-off, Walsall goalkeeper Jimmy Walker was given a guard of honour by both sets of players in recognition of him becoming the Saddlers' record appearance holder, though the chances of him celebrating the achievement with a clean sheet were diminished by the third minute. Hughes, collecting a headed flick-on by his strike-partner, Burgess, controlled well as he progressed into the box and fired powerfully into the bottom-left corner on the turn.
Before the celebrations in the away end had died down, Notts came within a whisker of doubling the lead, when Burgess swept Sheehan's grounded centre narrowly wide of the bottom-left corner. The frontman, following a fortunate deflection from an Alan Judge effort, was then prevented from finding the opposite corner by Walker's superb reaching parry.
County oozed confidence and knocked the ball around tidily, looking dangerous with every offence. Walsall, on the other hand, had threatened only once in the early exchanges, with midfielder Jamie Paterson bending wide of the target in the second minute.
On 39 minutes, Freeman carved out the Magpies' next opening, when he cut between two defenders on the right and pulled the ball back to Bishop, only the midfielder's effort skidded past the far post. At the other end, five minutes later, Richard Taundry won possession from Harley and proceeded to fire into the side-netting from 20 yards.
The second half didn't start at quite the same pace as the first but both sides created half chances. For Notts, Bishop volleyed over and, for the hosts, Alex Nicholls forced Nelson into a low stop with a stern strike, after Anton Peterlin had stretched the County rearguard.
On 61, Bishop produced a superb clearance that found its way over the home backline. Hughes charged onto the end of it and forced David Grof, Walker's half time replacement, into a fine block.
Walsall saw much more of the ball than they did in the first half but were unable to convert possession into chances, something that was made tougher by multiple interceptions and clearances by the Notts defenders, particularly Damion Stewart. The Magpies continued to look dangerous every time they entered the final third and came close again when Hughes latched onto another of Burgess' flick-ons to drag across the face of goal.
The home fans thought their team had equalised when Manny Smith nodded home at close range, following an aerial challenge on Nelson by Adam Chambers that caused the stopper to drop the ball. Cheers were turned into jeers almost instantly, as the referee pulled play back for a foul on Nelson.
Notts had to weather a late storm that continued into three minutes of added time. Some courageous defending, which had epitomised the team's 90 minutes ensured they came away from the Banks's Stadium with three points in the bag.
Attendance: 3,647 (394 away supporters)
Man of the Match: Damion Stewart