Wanderers 1 - 1 Walsall

BEN Strevens went from hero to pantomime villain after gifting Walsall a late equaliser in a cagey contest at Adams Park.

The forward – who became a father last week - fired the Blues in front just four minutes after coming on as a sub, with a lovely finish past Jimmy Walker after a pin-point cross from Stuart Beavon.

But the new dad will not get much sleep tonight after his sloppy, under hit backpass gift-wrapped an 82nd minute leveller for Alex Nicholls – who rounded Nikki Bull to grab a point for The Saddlers.

It means Wanderers are without a win since September and remain two points behind today’s visitors.

In his programme notes, boss Gary Waddock demanded his side show greater desire and determination after Tuesday’s dire exit to Cheltenham in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy.

He was rewarded with a lot of running and effort - but quality was at a premium in a drab first half.

Bull was called into action after 12mins, producing a fine stop from a Hurst’s swirling effort from outside the box after a corner wasn’t properly cleared.

Kadeem Harris picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box after good work from Donnelly on 24 mins, but the youngster failed to test keeper Walker.

But besides that, neither side looked threatening going forward in a game mostly played in the middle of the park.

It looked as if both sides had been sent out with the mandate to avoid defeat first, dominate and impose themselves on the opposition second.

But the shackles were taken off the Chairboys in the second-half, as an enforced half-time substitution reaped instant rewards.

On-loan QPR midfielder Martin Rowlands, who was clattered in the first half, failed to return for the second half – with Strevens on in his place.

And just four minutes after being introduced, Strevens was celebrating, stroking home after a great cross from the right from the industrial Beavon.

A collective sigh of relief reverberated around Adams Park and it could have been two just three minutes later.

Harris, a constant thorn in the side of The Saddlers, fed the overlapping Grant Basey – who scooped the man of the match award on his debut - but his low, cross-goal strike was cleared off the line by Walsall captain Andy Butler.

But just as it looked as if the Blues were going to go on and dominate the game, The Saddlers turned up the heat.

Claude Gnapka was sent through but Dave Winfield - on his return from a spell on the sidelines - raced alongside him and swept the ball away with an imperiously-timed challenge.

Walsall's appeals for a penalty falling on deaf ears.

And Ryan Jarvis then had a glorious chance with a free header, plumb centre of the goal, but he glanced wide and was then hauled off by Walsall boss Dean Smith.

The nerves were beginning to jangle, you could feel it around the stadium as the Blues looked to hold on for their first win since overturning Sheffield United in September.

And then, disaster struck.

Strevens won the ball just inside his own half and turned back towards his own goal for support.

He tried to knock the ball back 40 yards to his goalkeeper but didn’t put enough on his backpass and Walsall’s own sub Nicholls lapped up the gift, touching it around an advancing Bull before rolling it into the empty goal.

Strevens sank to his knees on the half-way line after realising his mistake had under done all the previous good work.

It sparked a frantic final ten minutes, as both sides took it in turns to push forward in search of a vital winner.

And in the final minute, the ball fell to the main protagonist of the second-half to win it for Wanderers, but Strevens fired his volley over.

Redemption denied.

Waddock asked for more and he got it, with an improved and enthusiastic performance in front of 7,097 fans on the club’s Community Day.

But those fans will be thinking of what could have been, as the Blues remain 22nd in the npower League One table.

Wanderers: Bull, Foster, Basey, Johnson, Winfield, Lewis, Rowlands, Donnelly, Ainsworth (c), Harris, Beavon. Subs: Strevens, Tunnicliffe, Grant, McCoy, Ibe.

Walsall: Walker, Westlake, Sadler, Butler (c), Smith, Hurst, Peterlin, Chambers, Martin, Grigg, Jarvis. Subs: Grof, Taundry, Paterson, Nicholls, Gnapka.

Attendance: 7,097.