IT'S HARD to know what's more pleasing for Saints - making it three wins out of four or keeping a clean sheet.

A win over Cardiff has lifted Saints right up the table and back in the play-off mix-up, an important milestone for them even this early in the season.

But, in the context of what has happened at St Mary's over the past few weeks, the clean sheet was a very symbolic achievement.

Since he's been Saints boss, George Burley has had rank bad luck with injuries to his centre halves.

However, nothing could compare with the run up to this game.

There are not many managers who could say they have had FIVE centre halves injured at the same time.

But with Wayne Thomas, Darren Powell, Claus Lundekvam, Andrew Davies and Chris Makin all sidelined, that was the situation Burley found himself in.

Incredibly, his left back on the day, Alexander Ostlund, lasted only eight minutes as well before he too was forced out of the action.

At that stage Burley must have been wondering what he had done to deserve such problems.

The key to a strong defence is usually consistency in selection.

As a manager you accept you will have to chop and change your front players, but you hope to keep the back four and goalkeeper the same week-in week-out.

The fact that three out of four of Saints' starting backline were loan players rather summed it all up.

There has been no consistency whatsoever this season due to the injury problems.

And where have the problems come for Saints this season?

Conceding goals.

That underlines the achievement of the defence put out against Cardiff in keeping a clean sheet yesterday.

Christian Dailly was truly awesome as a leader and Saints must do everything in their power to persuade West Ham to let him stay for at least another month.

Special mention must also go to Alan Bennett.

The on-loan defender came in for so much stick after the opening day 4-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.

His first game in Championship football was a steep learning curve but he showed a lot of character and a lot of bottle to stand up and be counted yesterday.

He did it in fine fashion as well and nothing typified his commitment more than when he threw his body in the way of Robbie Fowler's goalbound effort in injury time and surely saved his temporary team two points.

You couldn't fault Saints' work rate against Cardiff, nor the result, but it was a far cry from recent games.

The silky football was missing, the passing was at times a bit all over the place and the flair players didn't really perform.

But in many ways it's actually more heartening to see Saints play like that and win because it's something they generally have struggled to do.

Cardiff started the game fairly brightly and could have taken the lead in the first minute when Roger Johnson headed a corner back across goal but Fowler leant back and fired over the bar.

It was one of the few quality moments Saints produced that brought them what proved to be the only goal on 15 minutes.

Dailly passed the ball from halfway into the feet of Inigo Idiakez.

He controlled, turned and flicked the ball through to Stern John.

The pass showed great vision and technique and John simply lashed home first time on the half-volley with his left foot from just inside the area.

Chances were few and far between for the rest of the first half but, in Fowler and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Cardiff always posed a threat up front.

The latter came the closest to scoring the second goal of the game two minutes before the break but fired just wide.

Cardiff pushed on in the second half and Kelvin Davis had to save well from Hasselbaink and Fowler.

As the game wore on, Youssef Safri started to take control in the centre of the Saints midfield and they should have sealed the three points a minute from time.

Bradley Wright-Phillips got to the by-line and cut back for Jason Euell.

His first shot was blocked but the ball rebounded to him with time to pick his spot but he fired over from 12 yards.

Cardiff managed some late pressure but Saints were spared, thanks to a wasteful finish from Peter Whittingham and Bennett's block.

It may not have been pretty from Saints - but it was effective, and that's just as important.