Port Vale 3 Walsall 2
Angry Walsall manager Paul Merson questioned the attitude of some of his players after another poor defensive performance condemned the team to a predictable defeat at the hands of Staffordshire rivals Port Vale.
Predictable? Well, with five teenagers in the line-up, two of whom were making league debuts, only a supreme optimist would forecast any other result, despite Vale's recent lack of success.
And when he emerged from a long inquest with his men, Merson said: "When you lose, it hurts.
"It kills me and you want people to get that feeling, but I'm not sure certain players get that feeling.
"It's frustrating because, at the end of the day, people go home and think you are clueless."
Merson, whose team was weakened through injuries which ruled out himself, Darren Wrack and top -scorer Matty Fryatt, as well as the suspension of full-back Craig Pead, questioned the desire of some players.
He added: "I have played in successful teams and won things but good teams don't win things - people who have heart and desire and a will to win . . . they are the ones who win.
"We are better than a lot of teams in this league at the moment, but we are not top and that's why."
The Saddlers paraded teenagers John Ruddy, Danny Fox, Anthony Gerrard, Simon Gillett and Ishmel Demontagnac, the last two making their debuts, while the more experienced Mark Kinsella and Kris Taylor were on the subs' bench.
It took Vale - without a win in the previous four games - just eight minutes to cash in, Chris Birchall giving them the lead from Danny Sonner's pass which ripped open the suspect defence for the first time.
But with 17- year- old Demontagnac showing more fire than many others, Walsall equalised in the 24th minute. Simon Osborn's perfectly weighted pass released the youngster down the left and he forced his way into the box with speed and determination before delivering a low cross which Sam Collins turned into his own net as he tried to clear.
Twelve minutes later, Demontagnac chased a long clearance from goalkeeper Ruddy, forced his way past Collins, turned inside and bent a perfect left-foot shot inside the far post to give the visitors the lead.
With nearly every cross into the Walsall box causing problems, however, the unmarked Michael Cummins should have done better than head against the frame of the goal in the 41st minute, then Ruddy did well to keep out Gary Mulligan's header. Yet the writing was on the wall.
Vale were level in the 55th minute, Mulligan driving the ball home when Gerrard failed to clear another cross from the lively Birchall.
Merson then made three changes which backfired when an attempted clearance by one of the substitutes, Julian Bennett, let in Chris Cornes. The winger, on loan from WolverhamptonWanderers, promptly scored his third goal in two games with a wellplaced shot to win the game.
It could have been worse, a deflected drive from Steve Rowland beating Ruddy but rebounding from the bar and although the Saddlers forced a string of corners in the last ten minutes and Chris Westwood headed a good chance over the bar, it was too little, too late.
With only two wins in their last ten games, Walsall are obviously nowhere near good enough to make any kind of promotion challenge.
One man who could make a difference to the defence, Ian Roper, will get a chance to impress his manager in tonight's reserve-team game against Bradford City at Bescot Stadium (7pm).
Roper has been troubled by weight and hamstring problems which have restricted him to one substitute appearance this season.
Merson said: "He has let everybody down by being overweight and not trying his hardest to get back. I need him and he has worked a lot harder in the last couple of weeks. The sooner we get him back, the better."