Walsall 2 Southend United 2
Walsall are top of the league but how they need big Ian Roper back at the heart of a defence which is looking vulnerable when high balls are pumped into their penalty box.
New signing and skipper Chris Westwood is a good player but can be overpowered in the air and both Southend goals in the second half came from straightforward crosses which two tall strikers were allowed to head in.
Roper ? who has just been granted a testimonial ?is fit again after injury, but manager Paul Merson indicated after this draw that he will need to work his way back into contention for a recall. It should not take too long.
The Saddlers missed out on a chance to create club history with eight successive league wins ? five of them at the end of last season ? when they conceded an 89th-minute equaliser, but they are not yet the finished article despite their proud position at the head of the table.
Merson is naturally pleased by the unbeaten start to the new season, but he knows there is still work to be done and he said: ?We are letting in too many goals and I am not happy about that. If you average one goal a game, you will win more than you lose.
?We are top of the league but two points have been thrown away and they mount up at the end of the season.?
Merson admitted that his men were lucky to win with a goal in the third minute of stoppage time at Rotherham a week earlier, so he couldn?t really complain about Southend grabbing a share of the spoils with a couple of minutes left.
And, as Southend manager Steve Tilson so rightly pointed out: ?When we were 1-0 up, we had a couple of good chances to kill the game off.?
So a point each was probably a fair reflection of an entertaining game, though even after the Shrimpers put their late one in the net, Walsall could still have won. Mark Wright delivered the inch-perfect pass for the battling Jorge Leitao to meet with a diving header from about ten yards, but Daryl Flahavan pulled off a remarkable instinctive save.
The Saddlers had made one change in the team who beat Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night, new signing Paul Smith taking over in midfield for the rested Simon Osborn and they began with a series of powerful raids in which shots from Matty Fryatt and Jorge Leitao were kept out by Flahavan.
But gradually Southend took control, with most of their players looking very comfortable on the ball and putting together some decent moves without really stretching the home defence.
That is until four minutes into the second half, when a rash challenge by Darren Wrack led to a free-kick from which Carl Pettefer eventually delivered a high ball into the goalmouth where Wayne Gray rose unchallenged to head the Shrimpers into the lead.
Ten minutes later, it should have been two for the visitors, Freddy Eastwood outwitting Westwood and slamming the ball the wrong side of the far post.
That was a clear wake-up call for Walsall. Merson sent on Steve Staunton and Simon Osborn in the 60th minute and both men helped turn things round. Within five minutes, a good raid down the left ended with Danny Fox whipping the ball to the far post where Fryatt equalised with a neat downward header.
Three minutes later, a smartly-taken free-kick by Staunton was cleverly turned across the face of goal by Wrack for the hard-working Leitao to put the home side ahead and within touching distance of that club record.
But Walsall failed to close the game down, so it was no surprise when another high cross into the box by Southend?s impressive skipper, Kevin Maher, enabled substitute Shaun Goater to score with a header that was almost identical to Gray?s.
It brought back memories of last season?s start when so many points were squandered. Merson is determined it won?t happen again, but he has no intention of bringing himself back yet. ?When I play, it knocks us down to ten men, really,? he said.
Midfielder Michael Standing, who missed this match through a groin injury, will be out for a couple of weeks.