SAINTS 2 - WOLVES 0

SPOT ON: James Beattie opens the scoring against Wolves by converting this penalty. Pictures by Stuart Martin

SPOT ON: James Beattie opens the scoring against Wolves by converting this penalty. Pictures by Stuart Martin

First published in 03-04 Season Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Sports Writer

AFTER beating Manchester United even another win can still feel like a comedown - but make no mistake, these three points against Wolves were probably more important.

You could hear the fans before the game. 'It will be typical Saints - beat Manchester United then lose to a team like Wolves.' And in the past it probably would have happened.

But not any more. Gordon Strachan's side are a model of consistency and prove they are a good team by regularly getting results against the league's lesser teams and then occasionally springing a surprise against the big boys.

Sides like Wolves, that come and pack the midfield and play with plenty of battling players rather than 11 classy individuals, are rarely good enough to match Saints now.

That's because Strachan's team will battle as hard, if not harder, than any team they ever face. And they have a bit of quality as well.

There's no doubt they still lack a bit of creativity in midfield but, when the results keep flooding in, they simply can't be knocked.

Five games unbeaten speaks for itself, as does four clean sheets in a row.

The last goal Saints conceded was in the tenth minute of the opening game of the season!

Perhaps the creativity may not always be there form midfield but, as the old saying goes, 'if you don't concede a goal you won't lose the game.' It's generally up to James Beattie and Kevin Phillips to try and provide their own chances.

In this game the first came from the penalty spot - Phillips fouled, Beattie converting; the second was laid on for Beattie by Phillips in open play.

After an first 15 minutes where Wolves had slightly the better of Strachan's men, it didn't take too long for the St Mary's side to take control.

Fabrice Fernandes was a constant threat in one his best performances for a while, keeping the ball, running with it and using it intelligently.

His effort from distance was spilled by Michael Oakes on 23 minutes but Phillips was challenged just in time as he tried to turn home the rebound.

Just a minute later the same two combined and the Frenchman's cross was headed just wide of the post by the Englishman.

But the first decisive moment came on 35 minutes when Phillips burst into the box and went down under the challenge of Denis Irwin.

Referee Uriah Rennie, who far from covered himself in glory, pointed to the spot, much to the dismay of the Wolves fans.

And Mr Goals, James Beattie, stepped up and slammed home the penalty.

He ran to celebrate in front of the Wolves crowd who were singing 'If Beattie can play for England so can I.' I bet none of them can take a penalty like that.

But if there was a slim chance that any of them could, I'd put everything I own on them not being able to finish like he did for his second.

After Nathan Blake and Shaun Newton had missed three headers in the box between them, Beattie and Phillips really clicked.

On 51 minutes Phillips crossed from the left but Beattie's downward header was gathered by the keeper.

A minute later there was nothing Oakes could do.

Phillips played a beautiful ball into the path of Beattie who ran in and looked up, finding himself in the top right corner of the area.

He decided to hammer it first time and the ball rocketed straight through Oakes and into the top corner of the net.

It was a phenomenal strike and the chants of 'England's number nine' took over St Mary's.

From that moment on, the game was won.

Wolves are not a good side and sadly for ex-Saints boss Dave Jones it looks like a long, hard season ahead.

They aren't going to roll over lots of teams this season.

But when they do it will be partly due to inconsistency from their opponents - they were never likely to find that at St Mary's.

And in Phillips Saints had the man of the match. His performance was immense.

Strachan pointed out that since Phillips took to the pitch at half-time against Leicester, Saints haven't conceded.

He defends from the front, worries defenders with his sheer presence and the very fact he is on the field helps Beattie immeasurably as he finds himself not the centre of attention for opposition markers.

It's all about consistency these days. And for Saints right now it's everywhere.

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