Stevenage fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat at Walsall this afternoon to end their mini-run of good form.
A strong first hour from the Saddlers saw them 2-0 up through Sawyers and Westcarr but Boro put in an improved performance as the game progressed and halved the deficit through Francois Zoko. Lucas Akins received a straight red as Boro pushed forward for an equaliser but it wasn't to be as Boro lost to the odd goal in three.
Graham Westley made two changes to his starting XI with both Luke Freeman and Michael Doughty returning from suspension in place of Jordan Burrow - who dropped to the bench - and Simon Heslop, who was out of the 16 through illness. New signing Dean Parrett was named on the substitutes bench.
Stevenage started the game well and after controlling the opening exchanges created the first chance on 4 minutes. Good work down the left by Zoko saw him hold off a couple of defenders before finding Luke Freeman on the edge of the area. He then found Jimmy Smith, whose shot took a deflection and forced a smart save down low by Richard O'Donnell.
Minutes later Walsall created their first chance when Luke Jones was harshly adjudged to have fouled on the edge of the area. Andy Taylor - who struck a late equaliser for the Saddlers last week at Colchester - saw his low free-kick saved down low by Day.
Boro have conceded the opening goal in both their recent victories and it was the same here as Walsall took the lead on 10 minutes. A good run by Ashley Hemmings down the left saw him beat David Gray and reach the byline. His cut-back found Romaine Sawyers in plenty of space and the striker calmly side-footed home from 10 yards out.
The visitors responded and caused panic at the other end. Akins found himself in space on the left and fired in a cross which was just behind Zoko, with Walsall clearing it behind for a corner. The resulting set-piece came off a Boro player and safely into O'Donnell's hands. Akins also had an effort himself which flew over the bar.
Buoyed by their lead Walsall looked very neat and tidy in possession and dangerous coming forward, forcing Boro's defence into action on a number of occasions. Jon Ashton was forced to concede a corner at full stretch as one dangerous cross came in, Luke Jones blocked a Sam Manton shot from the edge of the area and Chris Day saved a long-range Taylor effort with his feet.
Stevenage were left to attack on the counter through Freeman, Morais, Akins and Zoko but on each occasion either the final ball or Walsall defending prevented any clear-cut chances for the visitors.
Craig Westcarr fired over and Luke Freeman saw his header from an Akins cross go behind as both teams traded chances before the break. There was even time for a Boro substitution as Graham Westley replaced Michael Doughty with Greg Tansey just as the fourth official signalled a single minute of injury time.
Peter Hartley, who looked to suffer a knock at the end of the first half, came out for the warm-up after the break but was quickly replaced by Bruno Andrade before play got underway. The QPR-loanee went to the left wing with Freeman dropping to left-back.
Boro forced Walsall into conceding a couple of early corners with Greg Tansey seeing an effort go over. However soon enough the hosts were back threatening. Sam Mantom fired over after Sawyers miscontrolled a Chambers cross and then Ashley Hemmings tricked his way past Gray before attempting an audacious effort with the outside of his left foot which sailed just wide, much to the relief of the static Day.
But 10 minutes after half-time Walsall gave themselves a two-goal advantage. A precise through-ball found Craig Westcarr and he fired hard and low past Day into the far corner.
Taylor curled a free-kick over after Gray conceded - and was cautioned for - a foul whilst Andrade blocked well from a dangerous looking shot. Not long afterwards Westley made his final sub with James Dunne coming on for Gray.
The move injected energy into Boro's play with Greg Tansey smashing a free-kick just wide after Zoko was fouled. The Ivorian then showed great pace and power to outmuscle his defender and bear down on goal to win the visitors a corner.
Stevenage's attacking efforts finally bore fruit with 20 minutes remaining as they got themselves back in the game with a goal. When a Boro corner was cleared only as far as Morais on the left flank he looked up and floated a cross towards the penalty spot. The keeper came out to gather but Luke Jones stood his ground superbly, leaving the keeper in no-mans-land and Francois Zoko to fire into an unguarded net.
A dangerous Freeman cross evaded everyone as Boro pushed for an immediate equaliser but their hopes of mounting a comeback were dealt a blow with 10 minutes remaining as Akins was given a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident missed by the referee and linesman but spotted by the fourth official.
Stevenage pushed forward in vain and Tansey nearly burst through in injury time only to slightly mis-control the through pass and be forced wide. Day was then forced into a fine save as Walsall pressed for a third. They didn't require a third however as the referee blew for full-time to hand Walsall all three-points in this three-goal game.
Walsall: O'Donnell, J.Chambers, Butler, Downing, Taylor, Baxendale (Gray 87), Mantom, A.Chambers, Hemmings (Lalkovic 87), Sawyers (Hewitt 83), Westcarr
Subs not used: Lewis, Purkiss, Featherstone, Benning
Boro: Day, Gray (Dunne 62), Jones, Ashton, Hartley (Andrade 46), Morais, Smith, Doughty (Tansey 44), Freeman, Akins, Zoko
Subs not used: Arnold, Wedgbury, Burrow, Parrett
Referee: A Madley
Attendance: 3720 (178 away)