Sheffield United’s eight match unbeaten run is over after they lost 2-1 at Walsall.
A victory for the Blades would have closed the gap to just six points on the Saddlers, who are themselves fighting for a play-off berth but two goals early in the second half by Craig Westcarr from the penalty spot and James Chambers ensured it was a losing start to the year for Nigel Clough’s team.
However, they couldn’t have asked for a better start as Chris Porter put them 1-0 up after 17 minutes from Stephen McGinn’s pass.
In difficult conditions the game became a midfield battle with the hosts gradually working their way on top.
But there was no more goals before the break with Porter’s strike separating the teams.
Walsall levelled on 52 minutes after Harry Maguire was adjudged to have fouled Andy Butler in the penalty area. Former Chesterfield striker Westcarr made no mistake from the spot.
And 10 minutes later the Blades fell behind when Chambers scored his first goal for two years after good play by Sam Mantom and Romaine Sawyers.
Walsall had chances to add to their lead and Shaun Miller, on for Jose Baxter, did his best to equalise for United but his effort was high and wide.
Walsall: O’Donnell, Chambers, Taylor, Chambers, Downing, Butler, Baxendale, Mantom, Hewitt, Sawyers, Lalkovic. Substitutes: Purkiss, Featherstone, Westcarr, Hemmings, Lewis, Benning, Gray.
Sheffield United: Long, McMahon, Hill, McGinn, Collins, Maguire, Coady, Doyle, Porter, Baxter, Flynn. Substitutes: Howard, Miller, Cuvelier, Brandy, Lappin, Murphy, Kennedy.