Nathan Smith sprinted off when he was substituted four minutes from time but even so it was worth checking he definitely wasn’t injured.
Centre halves don’t usually get subbed – and Smith never does – but such was John Askey’s exasperation with his team’s defending that the 24 year old was hauled off as Adam Crookes was brought on to play alongside Leon Legge.
The manager confirmed it wasn’t an injury, saying: “No, I was frightened we were going to concede another, and we were going with Theo Robinson and Devante Robinson up front and Crookesy, with his natural left foot, could hit diagonal balls to David Amoo. So that was the reason.”
If it’s any consolation to Smith, and it won’t be, Askey was heavily critical of both his centre halves so Legge could have just has easily come off.
The Smith-Legge central defensive partnership was arguably the strongest, most consistent, part of the side that finished eighth last season but it looks like one or both will be replaced when Vale return to action at home to Barrow on Boxing Day.
So, a chance for Crookes, or Shaun Brisley who was also on the bench on Saturday.
Askey added: “If I was one of them, I would be looking at it and thinking, ‘If I’m not going to play now, I’m never going to play.’
The manager insists the Vale are being organised in just the same way as they were when they had the best defensive record in the division, back in October, but he says individual mistakes are undermining performances.
So, Crookes, Brisley or both will get a chance although it would be no surprise if Askey also tries to bring in a centre half in January.
He confirmed in his Friday press conference that he wants to make changes in the transfer window, getting one or two players off the books in order to bring in players, probably on loan.
Mitch Clark looks certain to be heading back to his parent club Leicester City when his loan ends on January 2, but as he is only 21, he doesn’t count towards the EFL’s 22-man squad limit anyway.
Expect other outgoings to make room for a list of targets that could well include Jake Taylor, currently on loan at Scunthorpe from Nottingham Forest.
For the opening months of this campaign, a goalscoring midfielder such as Taylor looked like the missing piece of the jigsaw for a Vale side who were solid at the back but struggled to score.
But goals are no longer a problem. The trouble is, however many Vale score, it never looks enough.
Such was the case at the Banks’s Stadium as they managed to blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads. The Vale hadn’t exactly looked secure in keeping a clean sheet in the first half, certainly not in the opening stages when Wes McDonald set up Elijah Adebayo to hit the bar or when Adebaylo’s cross was sliced against his own post by Zak Mills.
But that was forgotten when they finished the half with a flourish. Tom Pope still had plenty to do when Devante Rodney headed the ball into his path. At 35, he was unlikely to win a footrace with centre half Dan Scarr, but he didn’t have to as he chopped the ball on to his left foot to open up room to shoot, then drilled the ball expertly across keeper Jack Rose.
Vale had taken the lead in their previous two games, only to hold it for only seven minutes in each of the 1-1 draws against Colchester and Forest Green.
But when Tom Conlon expertly curled the ball over the wall and past Rose for 2-0 on 44 minutes, it seemed that surely they were on their way.
No such luck. Saddlers boss Darrell Clarke made four changes at half time and saw his rejuvenated side get back in it when substitute Jake Scrimshaw ran through a huge gap in the middle of the defence and slid the ball past Scott Brown. The leveller inevitably followed four minutes later when Scarr swept home a corner at the back post.
At that point, the chances of Vale holding on for a draw seemed slim, but they actually regained the lead when substitute David Amoo beat his man down the right and crossed low for Rodney to sidefoot home.
That gave Vale 15 minutes to hang on, but Walsall only needed seven as first Scrimshaw was allowed to run into the right of the area before crashing a shot past Brown, then Scarr was again left free at the back post from a corner to head home on 82.
Vale should still have got out of it with a point but blew their chance when Alex Hurst found Mills behind the defence but he sliced his shot wide of the near post.
Vale can’t be in a position where they need four goals just for a draw, not if they are to have any chance of competing for the play-offs in the New Year.
This result leaves them in 16th, six points adrift of the top seven.
Askey said: “The games will come thick and fast and you can soon shoot back up the league. I said before the game it was a massive game for us. I think we were two points off the play-offs at half time.
“All we can do is start again and keep going. There isn’t a lot in the league points wise but you can’t keep saying that because eventually it starts to creep away from you.”