Merson strikes a note of caution

Walsall 1 Stoke City 1
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The Independent Football

We have always known Paul Merson can play a good game. With the passing of the years, it is becoming apparent he can also talk one. The most famous player in Walsall's 115-year history is encouraged by the starts made by his new club and the Stoke City side who went within five minutes of victory at Bescot Stadium.

But he is not fooled by them. He knows the time of reckoning will be long after the grass has lost its summer-holiday greenness and injuries and suspensions kick in.

"You are looking ahead to November, December and January to see how teams will really do," he said after his trademark volley had salvaged the Saddlers' unbeaten record and ended Stoke's 100 per cent one. "That's when clubs like West Brom could come to the fore and run away with this league. They have five centre forwards and real strength in depth. This was our best 11 and Stoke's best 11."

That is not to deny the advances both clubs have made. Going back to spring, the Potteries side have won four and drawn one and have enough to stay clear of last season's survival battle. Their manager, Tony Pulis, recruited eight new players. Several achieved top billing in this derby.

Carl Asaba, joined up front by the powerful Gifton Noel-Williams, fired them into a lead that the midfield powerhouse John Eustace and the debutant central defender Paul Williams did much to protect for so long. Merson would have had the last word had Vinny Samways not indulged in an angry injury-time exchange with Eustace and earned a second yellow card.

That Williams so often frustrated Walsall will have irritated Colin Lee who criticised him for not having the courtesy to tell him he was moving to the Britannia Stadium rather than Bescot. Loyalty plays a big part in Lee's style. Seven players he coached or managed at Wolves have followed him, as have two backroom staff. This ex-Molineux crop could have a happier season than the one left behind.

Goals: Asaba (33) 0-1; Merson (85) 1-1.

Walsall (3-5-2): Walker; Roper, Emblen (Matias, 51), Hay; Bazeley, Osborn (Oakes, 78), Samways, Merson, Aranalde; Corica (Birch, 64), Leitao. Substitutes not used: Kerr, Wrack.

Stoke City (3-5-2): De Goey; Thomas, Williams, Hall; Marteinson (Commons, 64), Russell, Andrews, Eustace, Clarke; Asaba (Henry, 70), Noel-Williams. Substitutes not used: Greenacre, Iwelumo, Cutler.

Referee: P Taylor (Hertfordshire).

Bookings: Walsall: Aranalde, Oakes, Roper, Samways. Stoke: Eustace, Henry, Marteinson, Williams.

Sending off: Walsall: Samways.

Man of the match: Merson.

Attendance: 9,033.