Walsall 3 Hull City 0

It has taken nearly a full season, but Paul Merson has at last put a team on the pitch good enough to compete with the best in League One.

Three successive wins, four games without defeat, clean sheets in the last two games, and promoted Hull City put to the sword. Suddenly, life is good for Walsall fans.

The latest victory ensured that they avoid relegation and today Merson will expect chairman Jeff Bonser to announce that he is to be given a contract to continue as manager next season.

But what team can he expect to field? He would like to keep Julian Joachim, whose loan spell from Leeds United has done most to ensure the Saddlers avoided the drop.

The former Aston Villa striker scored one and created the other in a 2-1 win at Swindon after a run of five successive defeats and one draw. Then he set up the opening goal in a 2-0 triumph at Peterborough, and he capped the lot with a sparkling hat-trick - the first of his career - against the toothless Tigers.

But the hat-trick that clinched Walsall's survival may have wrecked any chance they had of keeping him as clubs in the Championship are alerted to a player of his pedigree, who could he be available.

Joachim, who has scored five times in six games, told me: "I don't know what my future is at Leeds. If I have no future there, I would be interested in joining Walsall because I have enjoyed it here and playing regular football is what I need.

"I missed eight or nine weeks of the season at Leeds with a hamstring, then played a couple of reserve games. I jumped at the chance when Merse asked me to come here. It was a great opportunity to get back to fitness and play a few games".

Two other successful recruits, central defender Anthony Gerrard and midfielder Andrew Surman, who have been on loan from Everton and Southampton, will go back to their clubs next month, with no certainty of a return to Bescot.

So Merson will have his work cut out in the summer trying to complete his new squad on a tight budget and borrowed players are sure to figure high on his list of priorities.

The rookie manager hasn't even been on the substitutes bench for the last three matches which have yielded a maximum nine points and, watching from the technical area, he must have realised that young legs are, in the long run, of more value than his clever football brain.

Hull manager Peter Taylor, who has led his team to back-to-back promotions, said: "Walsall played some good football and I am pleased for Paul Merson because he has had some good results of late and he is slowly turning it round.

" Julian Joachim has played at the highest level and he caused our centre-half pair more problems than anyone else has."

Andy Oakes pulled off a couple of neat saves from Ian Ashbee and Nick Barmby before the Saddlers began to pass the ball around them with some style, thanks to a five-man midfield and it was no surprise when Joachim swept home the first goal from David Perpetuini's perfect cross in the 34th minute.

The lively Michael Standing and Surman could have added at least two more before Walsall had one escape just before half-time, Hull being denied a possible penalty when Kevin Ellison fell in a tussle with Gerrard.

Eight minutes into the second half, a deflected shot from Surman enabled Joachim to strike a sweet second goal which prompted some football from the slick Saddlers that verged on showboating. And when Joachim lashed in the third from an almost impossible angle, Walsall were cruising to their most convincing victory of a troubled season.

Walsall were indebted to a well-drilled defence in which Ian Roper was outstanding.

Scorer: Joachim (34, 53, 68).

WALSALL (4-5-1): Oakes; Pead, Gerrard, Roper, Perpetuini; Wrack, Standing, Osborn, Surman, Wright; Joachim (Fryatt, 81). Subs: Murphy, Emblen, Leit?o, K Taylor.

HULL CITY (4-4-1-1): Myhill; Joseph, Cort, Delaney, Dawson; Walters (Wilbraham, 64), Lewis, Ashbee (Hessenthaler, 54), Elliott; Barmby; Fagan (Ellison, 40). Subs: Duke, Stockdale.

Referee: M Messias (South Yorkshire).

Booking: Hull - Dawson (foul)

Attendance: 7,958.

Walsall man of the match: Easily Julian Joachim for his excellent hat-trick and ability to stretch a defence while a lone striker.