THERE was something symbolic about the gridlocked traffic on the M6 after the game: Wanderers have also shuddered to an inexplicable standstill.

Phil Parkinson’s team still sit second in the league and as the manager reassured supporters after the final whistle, they are still creating plenty of goal-scoring chances. The trouble is, taking them has suddenly become an issue.

Faced with 10 men for 75-plus minutes at the Banks’s Stadium this should not have been as difficult as Wanderers made it.

True, Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge had the kind of game he will probably tell his grandchildren about one day, but his belligerence was only part of the problem for the Whites.

Etheridge’s saves from Chris Taylor, David Wheater and Jamie Proctor were top class yet Parkinson will know deep down his team should have been out of sight even before the second-half heroics.

There was definitely more to appreciate in a footballing sense than there had been against MK Dons seven days earlier but like the motorway queues getting to the game, it was too stop-start.

Once Jason McCarthy had bundled a goal to give the Saddlers a 16th-minute lead they tried every trick in the book to preserve it. And who can blame them? Every second which could be eaten up was done so, much to the annoyance of the huge travelling support, whose backing was once again magnificent.

Considering Wanderers had played some decent stuff when it was 11 v 11 – Chris Taylor, James Henry and Andy Taylor putting in some delightful crosses – their reluctance to push forward when facing 10 men was puzzling.

Once again you can point at some baffling officiating, this time from old foe Trevor Kettle who went into the game having dished out three red cards to Bolton players in his previous three games.

He took centre stage when he elected to send off Walsall midfielder Joe Edwards for an elbow on Chris Taylor, one which the home players protested furiously was accidental. To back up that view, Edwards did not look at Taylor as he jumped for the ball on halfway but his elbow was raised so high it did give the Berkshire official a decision to make. History shows, he is not averse to reaching for his pocket.

In fairness to Kettle he stayed strong as the home fans screamed for him to level up the sides either side of half time. But when some common sense was needed in the second half, he lost the plot.

Keshi Anderson was sent on for Chris Taylor on 65 minutes and charged on to the pitch with a nudge from fourth official Ravel Cheosiaua. Taylor was still on the pitch and it had possibly been assumed he would leave the pitch on the far side. Instead of taking a breath and consulting those involved, Kettle issued a yellow card – which came back to haunt him in injury time when a soft challenge from the on-loan Crystal Palace striker saw him landed with a second caution, meaning he misses next weekend’s crunch game with Bradford City.

It had all started so promisingly as Jamie Proctor headed against the bar, James Henry flashed an effort wide and Chris Taylor came within inches of turning in an Andrew Taylor cross at the far post.

Edwards’ red card galvanised the Saddlers and they were ahead within minutes, McCarthy nipping in to prod home after David Wheater could only glance on a free kick, leaving keeper Mark Howard in no-man’s-land.

Lewis Buxton had a header cleared off the line by Andreas Makris and Etheridge made the first of several fine saves to deny Proctor. But while Wanderers had been a threat at set pieces, their open play was too slow and allowed the 10 men of Walsall to sit tight and defend their penalty box.

Sammy Ameobi, starting for the first time since signing on loan from Newcastle United and playing at number 10, became a more peripheral figure as the half wore on as did Chris Taylor, whose effectiveness appeared to be dulled by the stick he was getting from the home support.

Zach Clough was sent on for Buxton at half time to shake things up and the link-up play instantly improved. Yet even the prodigious young striker was fluffing his lines in front of goal, slashing at one chance and driving another just wide of the post.

It was soon to become the Etheridge show, the Walsall stopper pushing Chris Taylor’s pile-driver round the post and then twice denying Wheater from point-blank range. His save from Proctor’s stinging shot on the turn, however, drew a standing ovation from all sides of the quite-aptly-named Banks’s Stadium.

Walsall even had the brass neck to hit Wanderers on the break in the later stages – Simeon Jackson and Kieron Morris both going mighty close to a second goal.

Had the Whites grabbed a goal a second would surely have followed but that look of anguish on the face of their players after a missed opportunity is becoming an all-too-familiar sight.

Parkinson can hardly be too critical with his side second in the table yet his perfect start is now slipping disappointingly into the distance. What price three points against Bradford next weekend for a well-timed filip?