Paul Merson, the Walsall manager, is learning the hard way that there are times when leaving Paul Merson, the player, on the bench is a bad idea. Not that it started out that way.
With Michael Standing returning to the side, and Andrew Surman on the left, Walsall dominated this game from the off. Unfortunately, striker Matty Fryatt had a day when nothing went right and Bradford goalkeeper Paul Henderson stopped everything.
Against the run of play, it was Bradford who scored first after 20 minutes. Steven Schumacher was upended on the edge of the Walsall area and the midfielder picked himself up and calmly drilled the free-kick past the wall and into the far corner of the net. Not for the first time this season, goalkeeper Joe Murphy?s positioning was suspect.
?I thought the goal was a bad one to let in,? said Merson. ?I just think that if he puts it over the wall, you hold your hands up and say ?fair play?, but it doesn?t look good if it goes in the other side.?
The goal merely served to encourage Walsall to double their efforts but Henderson was equal to the task, denying Fryatt, Darren Wrack and Surman with a string of fine saves.
Having seen a first half of over-hit passes, countless misses and crosses that failed to beat the first defender, the Walsall boss decided that the personal touch was required.
?It was proven today that I need to play at home,? said Merson. ?It?s one of those decisions when you?re a manager. After 15 minutes, I thought ?nah, I should be on?. But you stick with the players and they created enough chances in the first half.?
That Merson?s introduction came at the expense of the excellent Surman was a surprise to all. The on-loan Southampton youngster was by far and away the best player in the first half and that Walsall failed to capitalise on a host of chances was by no means his fault alone.
There are many who consider Merson to be a luxury player at this level, but his ability to turn a game in an instant will always be invaluable.
Walsall dominated the second half as they had the first and, for a while, Merson?s frustration followed him on to the pitch as Fryatt and Mark Wright wasted golden opportunities that their manager provided for them.
But with 20 minutes remaining, sheer will power and Walsall?s unrelenting pressure told. Bradford?s defence cleared a Walsall corner and the ball came back out to Merson. His vicious inswinging cross found Neil Emblen, whose glancing header crept past Henderson?s dive to nestle in the far corner of the net.
The home side had chances to win after that. Henderson again denied Fryatt, skipper Simon Osborn fired wide from a good position and Jorge Leit?o went close, but the second goal would not come.
For Walsall, though, their remaining games of this campaign are now about preparing for next season when, a little bit older and a little bit wiser, Merson will attempt to guide his side into the Coca-Cola Championship.
Scorers: Schumacher (20) 0-1; Emblem (72) 1-1.
Walsall (4-4-2): Murphy; Aranalde, Emblen, Roper, Wright; Surman (Merson, 46), Osborn, Standing, Wrack (D Taylor, 49); Leit?o, Fryatt. Subs: Coleman, K Taylor, J Bennett.
Bradford City (4-4-2): Henderson; Armstrong, Bower, Atherton, Swift; Bridge-Wilkinson, Schumacher, Crookes, Muirhead (Bentham, 62); Windass, Cooke. Subs: Ricketts (gk), Forrest, Morrison, Symes.
Referee: M Cowburn (Lancashire).
Bookings: Walsall ? Aranalde (foul); Bradford ? Cooke, Bentham (both fouls).
Walsall man of the match: Neil Emblem ? in a side of misfiring forwards, it took a defender to score. A fine all-round display.