SAINTS 0 - MANCHESTER CITY 2

Daily Echo: EVASIVE ACTION: Graeme Le Saux hurdles former England colleague Steve McManaman. Echo picture by Stuart Martin. EVASIVE ACTION: Graeme Le Saux hurdles former England colleague Steve McManaman. Echo picture by Stuart Martin.

THERE ARE several key things you need to do in order to hope to win a football match.

The first is to be able to pass and move the ball.

Then there's being able to defend resolutely and not make mistakes.

You need to be have the ability to create chances from different areas.

If you fall behind you need to be able to get yourself back in the game.

And you need to do all of the above better than your opponents.

On Saturday, Saints fell well short of the mark in every department.

It was a very un-Saints like performance in so many ways.

They have had problems creating chances from different areas and chasing games but it's a rare occurrence that you can say there were defensive mistakes and their opponents moved the ball around so much better than they could.

Against Manchester City it was definitely one of those days.

Gordon Strachan was not a happy man after the game and we may well see a few changes in his line-up for the next few matches and on this evidence it's needed to keep things fresh.

Saints seemed to have few ideas of how they were going to break down the City defence.

What made that more puzzling than anything was that the City defence always looked so suspect and cumbersome.

You felt that all it needed was somebody to try and pass through them, somebody to show that cool head under pressure to split them and Saints would be up and running.

But nobody rose to that challenge and instead you were left with high balls at the front two or over the top.

That was always unlikely to work - City's back-line may have been cumbersome on the ground but you weren't going to beat them down aerially.

Kevin Keegan's team on the other hand were quick on the break, lucid and fluid in attack.

They moved the ball around better than Saints most of the afternoon and deserved their victory.

Saints opened up in promising fashion when Kevin Phillips and Anders Svensson combined to almost split the defence to find James Beattie - probably the closest they came to the 'killer ball' all afternoon.

But after Robbie Fowler saw a fierce long-range drive turned wide by Paul Jones, the former Liverpool man made Saints pay for uncharacteristic defensive errors.

Saints didn't look like they had conceded only one league goal at home all season when Fowler skipped past Claus Lundekvam who missed his challenge.

Fowler's eyes lit up further when Jason Dodd was caught in two minds as to whether to step out and challenge and decided to hold back, ultimately being lost between the devil and the deep blue sea.

That was all the invitation Fowler needed to take aim and fire across Jones and into the far corner from the edge of the area. Only four minutes had gone.

Just a minute later Beattie curled a free-kick around the wall but just wide of the post and that was the nearest Saints came until the 40th minute presented their best chance of the game.

David Seaman could only turn Graeme Le Saux's shot into his own penalty area but then dived bravely at the feet of Beattie to stop him firing home from ten yards.

As the game moved into the second half the fact that Saints struggle when they are forced to chase games again became apparent.

They are masters of keeping it tight and nicking a goal or two to grab wins but if they have to go after a match they find it much harder.

Neil McCann, Paul Telfer and Brett Ormerod were all deployed from the bench but Saints were missing a real fresh injection - maybe a Leandre Griffit or even a David Prutton.

Half-chances for Beattie, who failed to control, a goalmouth scramble that didn't quite break and McCann not producing the final ball when in a good position were all Saints could manage in the second period.

City, though, continued to create chances with Fowler causing all sorts of problems.

Lundekvam had to clear off the line after Fowler's effort flicked off Le Saux and the former England striker missed a great far-post header.

But with five minutes left, Steve McManaman's ball over the top set Paolo Wanchope away and the Costa Rican blasted into the top corner from just inside the area.

There were appeals for offside but perhaps sometimes you get what you deserve - in this game both teams did.

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