IF ever there has been a more depressing start to the season for Saints, it's hard to remember.

With the loss of the parachute payments, this really is the time when the full effects of relegation have been felt.

The Premiership, and all it brings, is but a fading memory.

Add to that the ins and outs of the politics of the club and it really is a sorry state of affairs.

You can point fingers wherever but your average fan is not interested in that, nor political point scoring.

Your average fan is the guy or girl down the pub chatting about the games with their mates.

The guy or girl who works hard all week to go to games.

They want to see their team go out, be competitive and do the best they can.

If that happens, they will forgive plenty of other problems.

Saints are used to having to sell their best players, but at least replacements are normally purchased.

Even with an injury and a suspension, for the club to have allowed the squad to go into this game with such little cover in the centre of defence is simply not good enough.

Alright, transfers take time and money is in short supply. But there are certain essential things at a football club and centre halves are some of those.

Anybody could see where the problems would stem from and, sure enough, it was the case against Crystal Palace.

Clearly the team put out on the field on Saturday was not up to the job.

The defence and the goalkeeper, in particular, were below the level that was required.

It was probably all George Burley could do defensively with the players he had at his disposal.

The players gave it their best shot.

But how was it allowed that Saints had to settle for that?

You had to feel a lot of sympathy for Alan Bennett. He's on loan from Reading, playing his first English league match and is asked to hold together a back line. It was just too much.

In midfield the balance was not right. Playing two defensive central midfielders in Youssef Safri, who in fairness did well, and Jermaine Wright did not work.

That's because Jhon Viafara was on one wing, so you had three mainly defensive players in that area.

If you play two holding midfielders, you really need to play two out and out wingers, particularly at home.

Andrew Surman can do that job and so can Adam Hammill, but the latter only started on the bench.

With Kenwyne Jones injured, Burley played Grzegorz Rasiak and Marek Saganowski up front, and they again looked like they could strike up a good partnership.

There were some encouraging signs for Saints in the first part of the game until their defensive frailties were well and truly exposed by two goals in the space of a minute.

The first was from a set piece, a familiar theme.

A corner was whipped in, Bartosz Bialkowski stayed on his line and James Scowcroft headed home from six yards.

That goal really exposed the lack of height Saints had at the back.

The second goal was even worse. A long through ball saw Scowcroft shrug off Bennett and lob Bialkowski, who was stuck in the middle of nowhere in his area.

Bialkowski produced a good save before Saganowski reacted quickest to a scramble in the area in first half stoppage time to ram the ball home off the underside of the bar.

So at least Saints had hope.

That was extinguished ten minutes after the re-start as Palace scored twice in two minutes.

First Scowcroft completed his hat-trick in farcical circumstances.

Keeper Julian Speroni pumped the ball long, Bialkowski tried to claim it in his own area but made a total mess of it and gifted it to Scowcroft to head into the empty net.

Two minutes later Clinton Morrison capitalised on defensive hesitancy and rifled a shot across Bialkowski into the far corner.

The goals Saints gave away were so basic, so easily preventable, that it angered the fans.

One of whom tried to confront Alexander Ostlund on the pitch before being led away by police and stewards.

Was it the fault of the players out there?

The manager who picked them?

Or the directors who haven't given Burley the tools he needs?

That's up to everyone to decide.

It may only be one game, and this result will hopefully be forgotten in the midsts of time.

But this was the occasion when the long term reality of relegation really hit home.