Wanderers suffered their first defeat in Sky Bet League One action this season as they went down by a single goal at the Banks’s Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The hosts had been reduced to ten men inside 16 minutes as Joe Edwards was sent off for elbowing Chris Taylor in the head, but it was the Saddlers who opened the scoring following a mix-up at the back through Jason McCarthy shortly after.
Phil Parkinson’s side threw everything at their opponents during the remainder of the clash, seeing efforts crash off the crossbar whilst Keshi Anderson was also dismissed for a second bookable offence, but it wasn’t enough as they left empty handed.
Manager Phil Parkinson handed a first Bolton start to Sammy Ameobi, while Chris Taylor was also in from the off for the Whites against the Saddlers.
David Wheater meanwhile took the captain’s armband in the absence of the suspended Jay Spearing.
The game began at a canter, with Jamie Proctor shrugging off the challenge of his marker inside three minute on the side of the box, but the forward was unable to find a Bolton head to capitalise.
The hosts were soon back on the front foot themselves though, with the diminutive Erhun Oztumer ensuring that the Bolton defence were on their guard early on with a number of dangerous runs.
It was a fairly evenly contested clash inside the opening stages, although James Henry enjoyed the first real opportunity when glancing a Chris Taylor cross just wide of the mark in the tenth minute.
Proctor also came close, with another Taylor ball seeing his deft header bounce off the crossbar with Neil Etheridge frozen.
With 16 minutes on the clock however, the Saddlers were reduced to ten men as Joe Edwards received a straight red card for elbowing Taylor in the head.
A boost for the Whites who had been on top for much of the game to that point, they went about looking to make their man advantage count.
Against the run of play though, Walsall took the lead as McCarthy bundled the ball home following carnage after a free-kick into the area from the left flank.
The Whites were almost back level immediately, with Buxton seeing a header cleared off the line with the next Bolton attack, the full-back virtually already celebrating his effort only to be denied his first Wanderers goal.
The home side had their tails up after their opening however, and in between various attacks from the Whites were trying their own luck at extending their lead.
Wanderers’ two Taylors almost combined for the leveller with eight minutes of the half remaining, with Andrew finding Chris, but the latter’s eventual effort trickled just wide of the goalmouth under pressure from two Walsall bodies.
Proctor also forced a superb save out of Etheridge with five minutes to go until the break, aiming for the top corner after breaking free of the Walsall defence only to see his shot palmed around the post for a corner.
That was to be the last real action of the first period however as the Trotters went in a goal down.
The break saw Wanderers’ first change, with Zach Clough replacing Lewis Buxton with Josh Vela occupying the right-back berth in the latter’s absence.
Oztumer, still a threat for the hosts, tried his luck from distance just two minutes in, only to see his effort clear the goalmouth with Howard untroubled.
The Saddlers had grown accustomed to their ten-man set-up meanwhile and were proving a tough nut to crack for Wanderers as they looked for a route back into the game.
Chris Taylor meanwhile attempted to elude Etheridge with a rifled shot from distance in the 57th minute – one which the keeper had to be on his guard to push away from danger.
It was all Bolton as the clocked ticked over the hour mark, with the healthy travelling contingent sensing that a goal was close as Wheater saw a header cleared off the line.
Walsall on the other hand almost countered with the perfect outcome, only for Simeon Jackson to fail to hit the target after powering downfield.
Jon Whitney’s side were standing firm however, with frustration evident for the Whites as the game entered its final quarter with Proctor seeing a half volley somehow deflected away with a goal looking certain while Wheater’s header was pushed over the crossbar.
With the game inside its final ten minutes, it was all hands to the pump for Wanderers as the Saddlers pulled everybody back in a bid to retain their lead.
Walsall’s penalty area was packed to the rafters inside the closing stages of the game, with Bolton throwing absolutely everything at their opponents in a bid to level and with five minutes added on, it was then or never.
Wanderers’ suffered more frustration too deep in to stoppage time as Anderson received his own marching orders for a second bookable offence.
And despite their best efforts, it was ultimately not enough at the final whistle as they suffered a first league defeat of the campaign.