Inspired Merson stakes claim for control as Walsall go down in style

Walsall 3 Rotherham United 2
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The Independent Football

Down but not out. Paul Merson's defiant message - "we'll be back" - as the Saddlers slipped into the Second Division by the slimmest of margins, will probably land him the job he so badly craves.

At the fourth attempt since the joint caretaker-manager replaced the sacked Colin Lee, Walsall implemented his game plan - if you don't shoot, you don't score - but they fell tantalisingly short as Gillingham's draw at Stoke rendered this win academic.

But when Merson meets chairman Jeff Bonser today to discuss the club's future, this stirring performance - including half an hour with only 10 men - should stand him in good stead.

"Just to beat Rotherham was a result but it's a 46-game season and we couldn't rely on Stoke to do us a favour. I had a feeling that the Gillingham game would end 0-0," Merson said. "If we play like that next season, we can only bounce back up straight away. To be honest, a big part of the reason we're going down is me - I have to look at my form. There's no ego about me - I'm not worried about playing in Division Two.

"The atmosphere was unbelievable and I would give my right arm to become manager - it would be a big honour for me. We gave the fans what they want to see and that's the way to win matches."

Merson's men could hardly have done anything more with the 36-year-old former Arsenal, Villa and Portsmouth playmaker straining every sinew in a man-of-the-match performance as Walsall laid siege to the Rotherham goal.They took the lead when the defence failed to clear Lee Bradbury's cross-shot and Simon Osborn, Merson's co-caretaker, poked the ball in from close range.

Seven minutes later, Osborn turned villain when he brought down Scott Minto in the box. Proctor hammered home the penalty. Osborn then received a second yellow for bringing down Andy Monkhouse.

However, Walsall went ahead again in the 69th minute when Darren Wrack's shot was parried by Pollitt for substitute Wright to score from three yards.

In a frantic finale, Rotherham levelled with another penalty when Emblen brought down Richie Barker and Paul Warne beat Walker from the spot.Paul Ritchie then headed in Merson's corner from the right in the third minute of injury time to seal a richly deserved victory.

Goals: Osborn (48) 1-0, Procter (pen, 55) 1-1, Wright (69) 2-1, Warne (pen 90) 2-2, Ritchie (90) 3-2

Walsall: (3-4-1-2) Walker; Roper, Emblen, Ritchie; Bazeley (Aranalde 87), Andrews, Osborn, Wrack; Merson; Leitao (Fryatt 81), Bradbury (Wright 67)

Substitutes not used: Kerr, Corica

Rotherham (4-4-2) Pollitt; Stockdale, Swailes, Gilchrist, Minto; Sedgewick, Morris, Barker S (Monkhouse 56),Mullin; Butler (Barker R 79), Bradbury (Warne 67)

Substitutes not used: Montgomery, Hurst

Referee: B.Curson

Bookings: Walsall: Osborn (2), Roper

Man of the match: Merson

Attendance: 11,049.