CARLING CUP: BRISTOL CITY 0 - SAINTS 3

CRUCIAL OPENER: James Beattie celebrates his eighth of the season. Echo picture by Chris Moorhouse

CRUCIAL OPENER: James Beattie celebrates his eighth of the season. Echo picture by Chris Moorhouse

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

THERE WAS a distinct whiff of nostalgia in the air at Saints' Carling Cup win at Ashton Gate last night.

It could have been because this was the first domestic cup game since the FA Cup Final.

Maybe it was seeing Saints in those yellow and blue shirts again.

Perhaps it was the massive army of Saints fans that cheered their team to victory.

Probably it was the combination of all three, but this was a chance to hope for the start of another cup run and also to remember the good times of the last one.

In truth, that was probably part of the reason some 3,000 Saints fans turned up for a game that wasn't the most glamourous on paper.

Of course it helped that it was half term but you got the feeling the fans were there to book their place in history at what they hope is the start of another great cup campaign.

It was as if last season you could proudly look back and say 'I was there throughout' if you followed all the Saints games in the FA Cup through to it's conclusion in Cardiff.

Nobody wants to miss a game now.

What if the tie at Bristol City is the first in a run that sees Saints back at the Millennium Stadium in the Carling Cup?

You wouldn't want to have missed last night - partly because you might struggle to get a ticket to the final otherwise!

In reality, of course, the final will still only come around if Saints successfully negotiate another three rounds.

But all runs start somewhere, and who knows?

Saints are through to the draw for the fourth round after what looks on paper a slightly more comfortable win than was in actual fact the reality.

Bristol City are a decent side and gave it a good crack against Saints despite coming from two leagues below the Premiership.

They had their chances too but in the end Saints were more clinical in front of goal and deserved their victory.

There was early pressure from City, who played with a zip on a wet and greasy surface.

Striker Christian Roberts caused a few worries with his pace and called Antti Niemi into two early stops.

Luke Wilkshire did likewise on 22 minutes when his effort from outside the box required a smart save after taking a deflection on it's way to goal.

A minute later City thought they had taken the lead when top scorer Lee Peacock flicked a header from Craig Woodman's cross into the corner of the net.

However, the linesman spotted it was offside and Saints were off the hook.

From then on Saints stepped up a gear and started to control the tie.

The recalled Fabrice Fernandes forced Steve Phillips into a one-handed save after his shot took a deflection.

Then on 31 minutes Saints got the breakthrough that settled them down.

Predictably, perhaps, it came from James Beattie - already his eighth of a still young season.

Rory Delap's ball into the City box allowed Beattie to control on his chest and calmly fire into the bottom corner after some very slack marking from City's central defenders.

Niemi was replaced at half time by Paul Jones as a precaution to protect a groin strain, and the Welshman also had saves to make.

Most notably on 58 minutes Wilkshire's shot required turning behind and, from the resulting corner, Tony Butler headed over from just six yards out.

Peacock also missed a good headed chance before Saints extended their lead and gave themselves a cushion in the tie.

Confusion reigned between keeper Phillips and his defence after 67 minutes and it allowed Brett Ormerod the chance to slot home from 20 yards.

There was still one worrying moment for Saints when Peacock's control and volley had to be well taken by the diving Jones.

But the game felt secure and Ormerod missed a good opening when he got through one-on-one but Phillips made a good save.

Saints weren't to be denied a third, though, and when Ormerod was tripped on the right side of the area, 20 yards out and two minutes from time, the excellent Graeme Le Saux stepped up.

He struck his free-kick cleanly but it took a deflection and left the keeper wrong-footed as it flew into the corner.

That was mission complete for the night.

The first step on the road back to Cardiff? The first part of another dream run? Only time will tell.

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