Wolves scraped home in part one of the alternative Black Country derby. But if this pulsating clash is a pointer of what is to come when the two neighbours meet in League One at Molineux in 13 days’ time, the fans are in for a treat.
A healthy attendance of 13,481 were treated to a no holds barred thriller which saw Wolves edge home 4-2 on penalties after leading twice, only to be held back by an increasingly threatening Walsall who finished normal time on top.
Indeed, had this Johnstone’s Paints Trophy first-round tie gone to extra-time rather than straight to penalties, the visitors were the team in the ascendancy to win it.
While Wolves should have held a more commanding lead than 1-0 at the break, Dean Smith’s side were the better team once they equalised eight minutes after the interval.
And, as Wolves head coach Kenny Jackett acknowledged, his players were flagging towards the end in a team showing six changes from Saturday’s 3-1 win at Port Vale.
Ultimately, the reflexes of former Walsall loan keeper Aaron McCarey made him the hero after saving two penalties in the shootout, while the coolness of takers Bjorn Sigurdarson, Bakary Sako, Matt Doherty and David Davis saw Wolves home.
There had been no suggestion of the Saddlers pushing Wolves to the limit early on as the hosts took a fifth-minute lead.
Liam McAlinden stabbed home from inside the six-yard box to meet Matt Doherty’s right-wing cross for his first senior goal after playmaker Kevin McDonald had worked the space.
McDonald was the architect of the next attack, crossing for McAlinden to force keeper Richard O’Donnell into a point-black save just after the half-hour.
At that stage, it looked like it was going to be a canter for Wolves. But they become sloppy in possession and would have been punished by a team with a greater cutting edge.
First a pass across the back by captain-for-the-night Danny Batth 10 minutes before the break was seized upon by Milan Lalkovic whose delayed shot was blocked by Scott Golbourne.
Then George Elokobi blocked from Romaine Sawyers after another careless ball.
Jack Price, one of three players making their full debuts for Wolves with McCarey and McAlinden, was next to give possession away cheaply, in first-half injury-time. His pass was gathered by Molineux old- boy Ashley Hemmings, but he overhit his cross to Lalkovic.
Doherty attempted a repeat of his assist following the restart when he galloped down the right and centred for McAlinden. Andy Butler cleared only as far as the Irish full-back, who steered the ball across the face of goal.
Out of the blue, Walsall equalised with their first serious attempt on goal. And it was the smallest man on the pitch – Hemmings – who dived to head them level in the 53rd minute from a cross by Craig Westcarr, whose half-time arrival for Lalkovic proved pivotal.
Three minutes later, Westcarr was again the provider, this time to set up James Baxendale. But the unmarked midfielder could only nod wide with the whole net to aim at.
Wolves looked to punish their League One neighbours on 63 after winning a penalty when Paul Downing shoved Batth to the ground as they challenged for Sako’s corner.
O’Donnell saved Sako’s driven spot-kick down the middle but was powerless to prevent him netting the rebound.
Sako was then a whisker away with an effort from 40 yards.
But Walsall were now snapping at Wolves’ heels.
And they got their reward when substitute Troy Hewitt superbly volleyed inside McCarey’s left-hand post after Doherty headed across his own box.
The spot-kick drama matched the action that preceded it, leaving everyone anticipating another humdinger in less than two weeks’ time.