Oldham Athletic 2 Walsall 1
Walsall clearly missed home comforts last night as Paul Merson's in-form side once again buckled on away soil.
After three successive home wins, Merson had hoped for a positive effect on the road. But two soft goals, free headers from Chris Porter and Paul Warne, handed the Saddlers their fifth straight away league defeat.
And, although Kris Taylor pulled one back and was then denied by a brilliant save from Chris Day in the dying seconds, the Walsall boss was not fooled.
"If you want to get promoted you have to be mentally strong, and that wasn't good enough," said Merson. "How can you be that good at home and keep clean sheet after clean sheet, then give away two poor goals like that?
"The first goal was just a joke. And the second wasn't much better."
To rub his nose in it, on a night when Walsall slipped back into the bottom half of the League One table, Merson lost on-loan Eric Skora with a knee injury. And he now has Jorge Leit?o suspended for the Hartlepool game on Saturday week after running up five bookings.
Merson had made three changes from the team that reached the FA Cup third round against Yeovil on Saturday. Recalls for keeper Joe Murphy and fellow loan man Skora had been expected. But Merson's other switch was forced on him by Steve Staunton's calf injury. And the absence of the 36-year-old at the heart of the Saddlers defence proved crucial.
There were only really three first-half incidents of note worth recording. But two of them were free headers from positions where Staunton might have been expected to command.
The first Walsall got away with when Guy Branston headed wide Warne's cross. But the second proved costly.
Warne wrongfooted the home defence with an air shot before having more luck with his attempt to cross, and Porter steamed in unattended to head home.
Liddell might have made it two, but for an alert Joe Murphy reacting well to turn away a shot bound for the top right corner which had deflected up cruelly off Daniel Fox. But, after a dismal 45 minutes, the second half was an improvement.
Oldham looked the more likely to score, and their second breakthrough finally came after 72 minutes when Paul Edwards' delicately weighted cross found Warne who looped in another header. But the reshuffled, more attack- minded Saddlers' response was hearteningly swift.
But, within 60 seconds, Walsall pulled one back. A goal created by half-time substitute Ishmel Demontagnac and scored by the Saddlers' second substitute Taylor.
Oldham could have settled it if Rob Scott had not fired wide from close range and Liddell not been denied by an alert Murphy.
But, despite a storming finish that even saw Walsall keeper Murphy up in the home six-yard box for three successive corners - and winning a header too - the Latics held out.
Anthony Gerrard's header flew just over, Taylor's shot was brilliantly turned aside by home keeper Chris Day and Walsall's final hurrah flew just across the face in front of a bundle of bodies.