Wolves are never going to lose to Walsall without it being a particularly savage blow to their self-esteem.
Such is the distance between the clubs in profile, in status, in reach and ambition.
But there should be no shame at Molineux in this defeat to Dean Smith’s outfit. These are no ordinary Saddlers.
From his meagre rations, the Walsall manager continues to fashion a slick, stylish and superbly-drilled outfit who thoroughly deserved the victory so joyously greeted by supporters and players last night.
What Crawley and Swindon had threatened, his team duly delivered and there is nothing for the Wolves camp to do but absorb the blow, acknowledge their rivals’ performance and move on to the next phase of a challenge they now know will be pitted with difficulties.
Yes, if anyone thought it was going to be Wolves 4, Gillingham 0 all the way to May, they now know different. Kenny Jackett’s team continue to be full of good intentions which are occasionally executed amid the flashes of individual excellence. And over the course, that may still be enough to get them to their season’s goal.
But they are nowhere near being a team yet – and neither should they be expected to – as Walsall’s greater cohesion and understanding, with patterns of play worn into their football like grooves on vinyl, reminded us. There was not a moment last night when each Saddlers player did not know what he was supposed to be doing; for Wolves, it is all a bit off the cuff.
Undoubtedly, the Saddlers have benefited by Smith’s decision to restore a midfield trio of Adam Chambers, Sam Mantom and Nicky Featherstone. Its outing at Crewe on Saturday, on the same day Wolves had a devil of a time trying to contain Swindon, persuaded Jackett that it was time he did the same.
A fortified midfield meant Leigh Griffiths had to be sacrificed and, with their talisman of these opening weeks discarded until the 55th minute, Wolves finally also ran out of luck. Although they had their moments, the merit of Walsall’s victory from a set-piece Andy Butler goal late in the game – he’ll never have to buy himself a pint in the town again – could not be argued.
The consistency of the visitors’ performance was a sharp contrast to the hot and cold temperatures Wolves registered.
One moment, Bjorn Sigurdarson is blazing a left-footer from 20yds narrowly over at the end of a sweeping four-man passing move, as he did after six minutes. But it was another 20 minutes before Bakary Sako twisted James Chambers the wrong way and sent his team’s second effort worthy of the name just wide.
In between came a lot of frustration as Wolves searched but found elusive the form and football to sustain them.
The changes brought parity with Walsall but no real domination, especially with David Davis continuing to struggle for form and Lee Evans continuing his crash course in serious senior football.
The withdrawal of Kevin McDonald early in the second half removed from the Wolves team the most likely creative source to unlock a Saddlers defence that was dominated by Butler’s presence but featuring an outstanding performance from Andy Taylor at left-back.
As a result, Wolves continue to rely for the time being on their proven match-winners. Sako smashed a 40th-minute free-kick from 25yds with such enormous power Richard O’Donnell earned the applause of his team mates as well as Molineux when he flipped it over.
Walsall will ultimately want to make more from their own crisp, passing football having been restricted to a Craig Westcarr free-kick on to the top of Carl Ikeme’s bar, after just nine minutes.
But even when Wolves applied renewed energy to their second-half assault, it came without the clear, cutting opportunity they craved.
No, that would fall to the Saddlers in the 68th minute after another important addition to the side of late, Troy Hewitt, had niggled another free-kick out of a frustrated Danny Batth.
Taylor supplied a swerving delivery to the back post where substitute James Baxendale arrived unnoticed. When he returned the ball across the face of the goal, it was no surprise to see the indomitable Butler heading home from close range.
Wolves were stung and stunned at the same time and, while their efforts of retrieval lacked nothing in spirit, they were riddled with a creeping anxiety at the discomfort of their position.
Of course there were a few jeers at the final whistle but nothing to over concern Jackett just yet. On the contrary.
Amid the frustration came the comforting sound of applause when Griffiths, brought off the bench, tried an over- the-shoulder Van Persie special from a Scott Golbourne cross.
It was an extravagant moment typical of the young striker’s ambition and it went horribly wide. But Wolves fans are not going to turn on these saplings yet; that at least is a comfort.