David Artell was full of praise for Crewe’s resolve as they survived Olly Lancashire’s late red card to beat Walsall 1-0 and register back-to-back wins.
Defender Eddie Nolan’s second-half strike proved decisive in a game that only burst into life in its closing stages.
Crewe boss Artell said: “It is not going to make the highlights reel, but it was a hard-fought League Two encounter and it was a proper ground-out 1-0 win. If we get 15 of them under our belt we will have a half-decent season.
“Walsall played very direct and threw everything at us, but (it felt like) we had 12 or 13 men on the pitch and that is why we won the game.”
The Saddlers were the better side in the first half at Gresty Road, but new striker Caolan Lavery blew a big chance when he fired wide from Cameron Pring’s pull-back.
Crewe did well to weather the wind and a series of visiting corners and eventually took the lead in the 61st minute.
Nolan – who had done well to thwart Josh Gordon as he broke clear on goal in the first half – picked up a loose ball and found the bottom corner.
Lancashire’s 90th-minute dismissal for a second yellow card left Crewe to negotiate a nervous five added minutes but they held on.
Artell added: “The game was stop-start, I don’t know what the foul count was but the referee has ended up with more cards than Clintons.
“It was a good finish from Eddie and we should have had more as their keeper was man of the match. All credit to the lads as they dug in and it was a good three points.”
Walsall boss Darrell Clarke believes youthful striker Gordon and new recruit Lavery will improve.
“It was Caolan’s first 90 minutes and he has not had a pre-season,” said Clarke. “He had a great chance that he should have put in the back of the net.
“Josh looks lively, but he needs to work on his end product. He needs a bit of composure, but he is a great lad to work with.
“The strikers will improve and we will add one to the mix before the transfer window closes.
“We are a work in progress and they are an honest group of players, but we have got to be more ruthless in the final third. It is a tough division and there is not a lot in it from what I have seen of other team’s videos.”