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Nightmare start: When Paul Merson and Walsall gave West Brom an opener to forget

Walsall will start the 2022/23 on home soil - as they welcome Hartlepool United to the Poundland Bescot Stadium.

COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD 09/08/03 
WALSALL V ALBION
Ther's only one Paul Merson! Paul Merson celebrates his goal today.
COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD 09/08/03 WALSALL V ALBION Ther's only one Paul Merson! Paul Merson celebrates his goal today.

There have been a few opening day delights for the Saddlers over the years - but arguably none more so than 19 years ago when the neighbours from up the road made the trip to Walsall.

It was back in 2003 and the fixture computer threw up a tough one for the Saddlers. West Brom had just been relegated from their first season in the Premier League - and quite rightly they were favourites to go straight back up to the top flight.

They had one of the strongest squads in the division - that could have arguably been even stronger had they taken the opportunity to sign the man who would ironically go on to tear them apart on that scorching afternoon in 2003.

Paul Merson had recently helped Portsmouth to the Premier League but was on his way out of the club. He still had a home in the West Midlands from his four years at Aston Villa.

It was reported that West Brom boss Gary Megson was offered the chance to sign Merson that summer - but he turned down the opportunity.

Paul Merson celebrates scoring the opening goal

Walsall on the other hand, jumped at it, and if the opening day was anything to go by, it was going to be an absolute rollercoaster with Merson at the Bescot.

West Brom pressed early but by half time - it was all over.

Just 17 minutes in and Merson connected with a cross on the volley and looped his effort up and over Russell Hoult and in.

Seven minutes before the break Merson was at it again as Albion failed to clear the danger and the Saddlers captain drilled the ball home off the underside of the crossbar.

And before the break it went from bad to worse for Albion - as Jorge Leitao tapped home from close range after Simon Osborn's shot came back off the post.

Paul Merson celebrates his goal as Walsall mauled Albion back on the opening day in 2003

Whatever Megson said at the break failed to work though as 12 minutes into the second half and Walsall were further ahead - as ex Wolves man Steve Corica fired in a fourth.

Jason Koumas pulled back a late consolation but they were left shell shocked.

After the game, Megson, a fiery character never frightened to mince his words, praised Walsall while lambasting his side's defending.

"Their finishing was marvellous," said Megson, "but our defending was, well, pathetic is a strong word but I think that's what it was."

For Merson, it was the perfect debut as he described Walsall has playing 'total football'.

"That was the ultimate debut," Merson said.

The Saddlers fans couldn't believe what the were saying

"Our passing and movement was close to total football. Don't get me wrong, we wouldn't have troubled Arsenal or Manchester United, but in all my time with Portsmouth we never played to that standard. We won games, we ground out results but our passing and movement were never as good as it was today. The winner at the end of the day was football."

In the context of the season though the drubbing didn't really impact too much - as they went back to Premier League as runners up. On the other side, Walsall kicked on after the start and were on the edge of the play-offs in the New Year.

Form then fell off a cliff, Colin Lee was sacked to be replaced by Merson as player manager, but he couldn't prevent the Saddlers from slipping into League One.

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