FOURTEEN-man Malvern were pipped 29-26 by Walsall in a Midlands One West thriller at Spring Lane.
The hosts played with a man short for over half the game after Richard Fleming’s red card before half-time.
Malvern started with purpose, putting in forward drives to suck in the defence and Alan Keylock burst over for the opening score.
More pressure forced a successful Adam Dixon penalty but the visitors hit back quickly when Daniel Simpson clawed back five points.
Walsall then went ahead after a fumble saw flanker Connor McGuirk charge through and Roger Weston converted.
Malvern persevered and, although their set-piece lost ball, there were signs of improvement with props Phil Snare and debutant Alex Easterby impressing.
The hosts won a Walsall line-out and Keylock punched through to set up a fine try for skipper Ieuan Mustow to regain the lead.
After Weston collected a yellow card, Dixon put Malvern 16-12 up via the post.
But luck deserted Malvern again as Keylock was sin-binned for what seemed to be a fine tackle which was ruled dangerous. Walsall took a five-metre scrum and a penalty try was awarded without any warnings issued.
Wood converted and Malvern suffered another blow when Fleming was shown two yellows, one for an offence and the second for words said to the referee.
Malvern faced the prospect of playing the next 42 minutes with 14 men but the second-half was even more pulsating as they made light of the one-man disadvantage.
With Snare, Jamie Anderson, Richard Preece and Keylock excelling in the loose, they kept Walsall on the back foot. The backs looked lively as well through Luke Milton and Ryan Watkins.
But, after a Walsall scrum in their own 22, the ball was shipped to winger Dave Pitt, who scored from a kick and chase with the conversion making it 26-16. Dixon narrowly missed a penalty before another was put into touch 12 metres from the line.
Malvern put in a controlled catch-and-drive move and Jordan Hillier touched down, bringing them back to within five points.
But Walsall won a penalty just in from the centre line and Weston’s big kick stretched the lead.
The spirited 14 fought back as Keylock went in for his second try in the corner to ensure Malvern had two points from the match for four tries and a losing bonus.
It was one of the best displays by Malvern this season against a side they could have beaten with a full team.