Wigan Athletic eased past Walsall with a comfortable victory at the Bescot Stadium and upped the pressure on Shrewsbury and Blackburn at the top of the League One table.
Walsall didn’t get the new manager ‘bounce’ under Dean Keates as Latics scored three goals in nine first-half minutes.
Michael Jacobs opened the scoring on 31 minutes with a clinical far-post finish from an inviting low cross from Nick Powell.
Swansea loanee midfielder Jay Fulton increased the lead with a powerful 20-yard drive and Chey Dunkley stabbed the ball home for the third after a goalmouth scramble.
The visitors couldn’t add to their lead in the second-half but the points had already been sealed after the first-half performance.
Latics weren’t at their best on the night but they still came away with a vital three points in the race for automatic promotion. They are now one point behind Shrewsbury and two behind leaders Blackburn but with two games in hand.
Paul Cook made four changes to the starting line-up from Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Southampton, with Fulton, Powell, James Vaughan and Ryan Colclough replacing Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts, Will Grigg and Gavin Massey.
Latics had an early opportunity when Max Power’s corner found Dunkley at the near post but the big defender couldn’t quite get his effort on target.
Powell then headed over the crossbar from a Colclough delivery as the visitors started to look dangerous.
Erhun Oztumer briefly threatened as Walsall counter-attacked but his shot was well blocked by Dunkley and the ball was claimed by Christian Walton.
Despite creating some chances, Latics looked a little tentative in the opening minutes and it appeared that captain Sam Morsy, who was on international duty with Eqypt, would be missed.
But the opening goal quickly turned the game in Latics’ favour as Jacobs converted Powell’s fine cross at the far-post and set in motion a crazy nine minutes.
Four minutes later Fulton then took aim from 20-yards out and produced a powerful low drive into the corner past keeper Liam Roberts.
Five minutes after that Latics effectively sealed the three points when Dunkley stabbed the ball home after the Saddlers had failed to clear Power’s corner.
Walsall briefly threatened at the start of the second-half as Kieron Morris was twice denied by saves from Walton.
Jacobs then had a great opportunity to increase Latics’ lead when he collected Colclough’s cross-field ball but the winger curled his shot wide of the post.
Amadou Bakayoko then tested Walton before Colclough forced a save low down from keeper Roberts.
The match fizzled out as as contest as Latics had secured the vital three points in nine crazy first-half minutes which had made all the difference.