Walsall 1 Torquay United 1

Should Walsall be fortunate enough to escape a double dose of relegation next month, it will be no thanks to their own efforts but more to the failures of their immediate rivals in distress.

Torquay, without a win in ten games now, were streets ahead in passing, movement and desire and they should have won with a couple of goals to spare.

A late equaliser by substitute Matty Fryatt saved the Saddlers and, perhaps, Paul Merson's job. The playermanager, who will be mighty relieved to see the end of the season, has used up the nine lives normally allotted to a black cat.

After another dire performance Merson said it was about time his team had a bit of luck. Yet there is nothing unlucky about the predicament Walsall are in. They lack leadership on the pitch and there is little or no plan in their approach play.

So poor were the Saddlers that Torquay head coach Leroy Rosenior had no hesitation in forecasting that his team would catch them in the battle to beat the drop - and that means making up a sixpoint gap with just five games remaining.

The Gulls haven't won in the last ten attempts.

Walsall's record is little better - nine matches since they tasted victory, so it is lucky indeed that Merson's strugglers still have to meet woeful Peterborough United and hapless Stockport County.

"A draw was a massive result, in view of the way we played,"

said Merson. "I would rather be in our position than MK Dons, Torquay or Wrexham."

Few in the ground could understand why top-scorer Matty Fryatt was allowed to watch this miserable display from the substitutes' bench until ten minutes from the end because neither of the strikers, Julian Joachim and Jorge Leit?o, had troubled the Gulls' normally leaky defence.

Within 30 seconds of joining the fray, Fryatt had notched his 14th goal of the season with what he described as probably the most important of his career.

Exchanging passes with Darren Wrack, he smashed an angled drive into the roof of the net. At that stage, Torquay had been leading by a gift goal scored by Adebayo Akinfenwa in the 59th minute when yet another goalkeeping howler, this time by Andy Oakes, left him with a shot into the empty net.

Fortunately for Oakes, he finished the game with three outstanding saves to prevent Torquay collecting the winner they deserved.

Merson said he was not sorry that he left it so late to bring on Fryatt, but the young striker, booked for celebrating his goal with the fans, said: "I wanted to come on before, but I didn't think I would do that straight away, with my third touch.

"Now we have to push on and get results without worrying about other teams. It's a nervous situation, in view of what happened last season."

In the first half, Torquay could have had three goals while the Saddlers hardly created a worthwhile chance at the other end.

Time and again long, high balls were booted in the general direction of Leit?o and Joachim despite the fact that Walsall are weak in the air and it was not until the introduction of Mark Wright in the second half that the home side offered any threat from the flanks.

Merson himself was disappointing when they desperately needed someone to take a grip in midfield and why Andrew Surman, on loan from Southampton, stayed on the bench is a mystery.

Walsall now have away games at Swindon and Peterborough before returning for a home clash with high-flying Hull City.

It looks like going to the last day of the season again.

Scorers: Akinfenwa (59) 0-1; Fryatt (80) 1-1.

WALSALL (4-4-2): Oakes; Gerrard, Emblen (Wright, 64), Roper, Perpetuini; Pead, Osborn, Wrack, Merson; Leit?o (Fryatt, 80), Joachim. Subs: Murphy, Standing, Surman.

TORQUAY UNITED (4-5-1): Marriott; Hockley, Woods, Taylor, Woodman; Phillips, Russell, Garner, Hill, Brown (Constantine, 74); Akinfenwa. Subs: Abbey, Kuffour, Villis, Canoville.

Referee: C W Oliver (Ashington). Bookings: Walsall - Fryatt (leaving field of play), Osborn (foul); Torquay - Phillips (foul)

Attendance: 5,694.

Walsall man of the match: Anthony Gerrard - young on loan defender showed the kind of determination and spirit more must copy to escape the drop.