Swindon 1 Walsall 2

The prospect of presiding over two successive relegations would be enough to encourage any manager to turn to drink.

But at least Walsall player-manager Paul Merson's on-field problems are receding following this dramatic victory which decreases the likelihood of relegation.

Merson made the headlines again last week following the 37-year-old former alcoholic's admission to an "odd lapse" after details of a night out in Birmingham cty centre emerged.

However, Merson is adamant his drinking is under control and this victory, Walsall's first in ten games, illustrated the under-pressure manager retains the support of his players.

Merson said: "I'm very pleased and hopefully I can have a quiet week now. If we had lost 2-1, I would have been in trouble. I take the job very seriously, I want to carry it on and this was a big result.

"We worked hard and we got that bit of luck because no-one expected us to win.

Hopefully we can keep it going and get one or two more wins so we will be definitely safe."

Merson's tactical decision to omit himself completely in favour of younger, more athletic players paid off handsomely at the County Ground as the visitors' 4-5-1 formation frustrated the hosts.

Walsall soaked up lots of pressure and hit Swindon on the counter-attack using the pace of their on-loan duo, Andrew Surman and Julian Joachim.

The Saddlers' player-boss can sometimes be an expensive luxury - particularly away from home when other sides have more possession - as he rarely tackles or closes opponents down.

Although it is hard to

believe, Walsall were somewhat liberated by Merson's absence which meant all their players were constantly snapping at the ankles of their Swindon counterparts.

Consequently Andy King's hosts, who needed a win to keep alive their play-off aspirations, hardly created any chances in the first half.

They had plenty of the ball but the likes of Simon Osborn and Michael Standing never let the Swindon players settle and find their stride.

Granted, Joachim's 44thminute opener when he blasted in Mark Wright's pass from a tight angle was against the run of play.

But Walsall wasted at least three decent chances to extend their lead before Swindon

equalised with a disputed penalty six minutes from time.

Craig Pead was ruled to have blocked a goalbound shot with his hand even though he was on the floor and couldn't have moved but Sam Parkin converted the spot-kick.

However, just as supporters feared their team might crumble, Walsall displayed considerable fortitude to snatch an unlikely victory.

Joachim, who ran non-stop all afternoon, won a ball on the byline for which he was second-favourite and squared it for Wright to side-foot in with just seconds remaining.

Cue bedlam in the away dugout, where Merson jumped with delight in front of the club's 350-strong following.

Wright said: "It was a good

feeling and I was pleased to put it in the back of the net. The goal killed the game off and was very important. I was also pleased because I thought the penalty was harsh."

With the other teams around the bottom also picking up points, Walsall's win was vital as it keeps them 19th with just four games left.

It should also help dispel some lingering fears that Merson is not cut out for management following his latest embarrassment.

The victory should also give the players confidence and they may yet finish a disappointing season on a positive note.

Former Aston Villa and Coventry striker Joachim, on loan from Leeds United, said:

"That result gives the whole club a lift. It will get the confidence up and hopefully we can get on a good run until the end of the season.

"We have still got to be focused and look over our shoulders, but if we play like this, we will pick up more points."

Scorers: Joachim (44) 0-1; Parkin (84) 1-1; Wright (90) 1-2.

SWINDON (4-4-2): Evans, Jenkins, O'Hanlon, Heywood, Duke (Ifil, 64), Igoe, Miglioranzi, Hewlett (Fallon, 65), Smith, Parkin, Roberts (Caton, 65). Subs: Book, Pook.

WALSALL (4-5-1): Oakes, Gerrard, Roper, Wright, Perpetuini, Standing (Leit?o, 64), Osborn, Pead, Surman, Wrack, Joachim (Fryatt, 90). Subs: Taylor, Kinsella, Murphy.

Referee: K Woolmer ( Northamptonshire).

Bookings: Swindon - Ifill (foul); Walsall - Roper (dissent), Perpetuini (foul). Attendance: 5,592.

Walsall man of the match: Julian Joachim - tormented the home defence despite playing up-front on his own.