Walsall began the 2021/22 season with a narrow defeat at Tranmere Rovers.
Callum McManaman scored the only goal of the game for Micky Mellon’s side late in the second half.
Chris Merrie’s red card saw the hosts reduced to 10-man with three minutes of normal time to go but the Saddlers couldn’t find an equaliser.
Manny Monthe, Ash Taylor and new captain Joss Labadie all started against their former club on their Saddlers debut.
Conor Wilkinson, Stephen Ward, Brendan Kiernan, Tyrese Shade, Zak Mills and goalkeeper Carl Rushworth made up the nine debutants for Walsall.
Tranmere made a lively start in front of a buoyant atmosphere at Prenton Park but the Saddlers weathered the early pressure well with Taylor and Monthe producing some impressive blocks and challenges.
Matt Taylor’s side settled into the game and their first attempt on goal came when the ball fell to Mills on the edge of the area who controlled before shooting with his left foot but his shot took a deflection and went behind on 23 minutes.
The Saddlers started to link up well as Labadie picked out Ward with a nice ball over the top and the defender cut the ball back to Emmanuel Osadebe who struck the ball well but his effort was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.
Neither keeper was tested in a close opening half as the two teams went in level at the break.
There was a pause in play early in the second half as the assistant referee was forced off with an injury and replaced by the fourth official. Premier League referee Mike Dean stepped in to replace the fourth official.
The Saddlers almost got caught out on 56 minutes as they were left outnumbered at a Tranmere counter attack but Rushworth stood tall and did well to push away McManaman’s shot.
The visitors began to build some momentum and had a couple of chances from corners as Liam Kinsella’s powerful shot was blocked while Taylor headed straight at Murphy.
Matt Taylor made his first change with 20 minutes to go as Kieron Phillips replaced Kiernan.
Walsall couldn’t quite capitalise on that momentum and the hosts regained a foothold.
Tranmere then opened the scoring on 73 minutes when McManaman swept home from close range after the ball was played across.
The Saddlers Head Coach reacted and introduced Jack Earring for his EFL debut in place of Kinsella.
With four minutes of normal time to go, Tranmere were reduced to 10 men as Merrie was given his marching orders for a poor challenge on Shade.
There were seven minutes of added time announced and the Saddlers upped the ante.
There was agony for Taylor in the dying seconds when Monthe nodded the ball down into his path but he turned the ball over the bar and that proved to be the last chance of the game.
Rushworth; Mills, Taylor, Monthe, Ward; Labadie, Kinsella (Earing 83); Shade, Osadebe, Kiernan. (Phillips 70’); Wilkinson
Subs: Rose, Bates, Leak, Perry, Menayese