BEAMING Peter Jackson got a rapturous ovation as he marched to the team bus - and that was from the Walsall fans!
Even though they'd just seen their own team relegated to League II, they reckoned Town were the best team to visit the Bescot this season.
And it was a credit to the large group of Saddlers' faithful who waited to hail Jackson and applaud his team as they left for the M6, because they were clearly gutted at suffering a second demotion in just three seasons.
It came despite a spirited performance from Kevan Broadhurst's team - particularly the excellent Anthony Gerrard at the back - and a late deflected strike by substitute Michael Leary which served only to ruin what would have been a deserved clean sheet for Paul Rachubka and his determined defence.
By then, Town were two goals to the good thanks to David Graham's classy 25th-minute strike and a close-range prod from substitute Pawel Abbott eight minutes from time.
Then Andy Booth's bullet-like diving header from a miscued Abbott shot in the third minute of stoppage time prevented any nervous moments for the 1,600 travelling fans, who gave magnificent support in addition to some decibels of stick to ex-Bradford striker Steve Claridge.
The fact that Walsall's dreadlocked defender Chris Westwood was sent off 20 minutes from time for kicking out at the battling Booth had no effect whatsoever on the result.
Town richly deserved the three points, providing the perfect pick-me-up from their Chesterfield hangover and preserving their record of not having lost back-to-back League matches all season.
Their first win at Walsall since 1989 - and only a second away from home since November - came courtesy of 90 minutes of application within a new 4-1-3-2 system which was a tactical triumph for Jackson and coach Terry Yorath.
Mark Hudson was the pivot, playing just in front of the back four and showing genuine quality not only in defence but in providing licence for his colleagues to attack.
Town did so with width - full-backs David Mirfin and Danny Adams offering excellent support to Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Danny Schofield - and when any moves broke down, Booth and Graham provided an excellent first line of defence with their unselfish running across the line.
Everyone was forced to work hard because of Walsall's determination to end a run of seven matches without a win, but Martin McIntosh and Nathan Clarke were tremendous at the back, both making brave blocks as Claridge and James Constable took aim, and Rachubka weighed in with some confident handling and sensible distribution.
Walsall's cause wasn't helped by an injury to the skilful Mads Timm on 31 minutes although his replacement, Kevin James, still caused Town some headaches with his direct running through midfield.
The goal by Graham, his eighth of an excellent loan spell, had already stunned the home side and, after half chances for Graham and the lively Chris Brandon, Town would have been home and dry if Schofield had scored when on-on-one with keeper Andy Oakes 10 minutes after the re-start.
Booth also sent a header from Clarke's powerful long throw crashing against the woodwork on 61 but, despite Westwood's red card, Walsall never gave up the fight and it wasn't until Abbott netted just three minutes after going on - his first goal since January - that home fans accepted their fate and started heading for the exit gates.
They missed Leary's stoppage time effort, which went in off Clarke's knee, and Booth's bullet which sparked a blue and white party behind the goal and a celebratory run down the touchline by Jackson to match that of when Paul Dalton scored to clinch his first win as a manager all those years ago.
That became part of Great Escape folklore and Town are still within touching distance of more history if they can win the last two games and hope both Colchester and Brentford slip up, not forgetting a win against Yeovil will guarantee play-offs.
Man of the Match: Mark Hudson
Showed excellent discipline to anchor midfield from just in front of the back four. His defensive work allowed others to get forward at will and his distribution made him a vital pivot to the new-look system.
How they rated:
Paul Rachubka A couple of free-kicks had him scrambling, but did all his work soundly in an often crowded six-yard box Rating: 7/10
David Mirfin Right-back cover for the injured Andy Holdsworth, he defended very solidly and was always willing to attack with purpose Rating: 8/10
Danny Adams Put in some decent crosses despite an uneven surface and used the ball well when in defensive situations Rating: 7/10
Martin McIntosh An excellent return for his first match in five. Won plenty of headers and his early block on Claridge was superb Rating: 8/10
Nathan Clarke Terrific contribution as Town resisted almost everything thrown at them. Unlucky to deflect in Leary's late shot Rating: 8/10
Danny Schofield Played well throughout and will be disappointed not to have scored when one-on-one with the keeper on 55 mins Rating: 7/10
Gary T-Fletcher Tremendous workrate and did a lot of valuable covering back. Attacked smartly down the right and linked really well Rating: 8/10
Mark Hudson Played just in front of the back four and provided an excellent insurance policy in Peter Jackson's 4-1-3-2 formation Rating: 9/10
Chris Brandon Played central midfield for the suspended Jon Worthington and had a couple of excellent shooting chances Rating: 7/10
Andy Booth Back in the side and deserved his 15th goal of the season. His work as a first line of defence was outstanding. Rating: 8/10
David Graham Scored a brilliant long range opener to give Town control and made many telling, unselfish runs to spark attacks Rating: 8/10
While Andy Booth had headed into the side netting, Town had been pressing without creating a clear-cut chance until David Graham caught everyone by surprise with a cracking 25-yard shot to open the scoring on 25 minutes. He showed great technique, hitting a fierce drive with the minimum of backlift. Top-class.
Spotlight on the ref:
Hampshire official Keith Stroud, the man who sent off Paul Rachubka in the 2-0 defeat at Brentford, had a decent game, but the bookings of Nathan Clarke and David Mirfin seemed harsh. He had no option but to send off Chris Westwood for a wild kick at Andy Booth, who was booked for pulling back the Walsall defender
Walsall: Oakes; Pead, Fox, Gerrard, Westwood; Mills, Timm (James 31), Osborn (Leary 68), Keates; Constable, Claridge. Subs not used: Roper, Wright, Gilmartin (Gkp).