SPURS 5 - SAINTS 1

Daily Echo: FULL STRETCH: Goalkeeper Antti Niemi can do nothing to stop Jermain Defoe's opening goal at White Hart Lane. FULL STRETCH: Goalkeeper Antti Niemi can do nothing to stop Jermain Defoe's opening goal at White Hart Lane.

IN the two seasons which proceeded this rather sorry campaign, Saints could boast one of the meanest defences in the country.

At its heart was a towering cliff-face by the name of Michael Svensson. All around him there stood rocks.

Yet in his absence, those rocks seem to be shrivelling into pebbles.

And with the notable exception of Antti Niemi, the Southampton defence was washed away at White Hart Lane during a frightful first-half battering from a tidal wave of Tottenham attacks.

Frederic Kanoute and Jermain Defoe were certainly outstanding. But Saints boss Harry Redknapp was only stating the obvious when he described some of the defending as "shambolic".

After the Watford debacle, it is the second time this season that an area of the team which was once such a source for pride has shipped five goals.

The change is a testament to two things.

First, that overwhelming presence of Svensson and second, the job Gordon Strachan did as manager.

They've not quite said it, but both Paul Sturrock and Redknapp have seemed surprised by the make-up of the squad they have inherited.

He was more fortunate with injures, but under Strachan, Saints were hard to beat and regularly played at a tempo which made it very difficult for the opposition to play.

They were not scoring many more goals, but they were shipping far less.

No blame can be attached to Redknapp, but where the squad looked lean, mean, fit and purposeful two seasons ago, it now appears bloated, short of confidence and slow.

Indeed, if there was one quality that really separated the two teams on Saturday, it was pace.

It is something Kanoute and Defoe have in abundance and which they used to devastating effect after what was actually a fairly even opening.

The home team sent a long ball clear down the right in the eighth minute.

Darren Kenton had drifted across, while Danny Higginbotham dived in to challenge Kanoute.

He missed the ball and the Frenchman broke clear.

And showing excellent composure, he waited for Defoe to escape the other Saints defenders before teeing him up to riffle past Antti Niemi.

The problems were principally coming down the left with Rohan Ricketts and the drifting Kanoute doubling up on Higginbotham, who was receiving little defensive cover from Anders Svensson.

Playing largely through Peter Crouch as a target-man, Saints began to get a foothold in the game, although all the incisive football was coming from Tottenham.

Michael Brown floated in a through-ball to Defoe, who turned Kenton and forced an excellent save from Niemi.

Moments later, Kanoute beat Claus Lundekvam and played the young England striker clear to slot home.

Saints' defence was pulled apart again when Kanoute broke through and forced a fine acrobatic save from Niemi.

The inevitable third came in the 44th minute and deservedly went to Kanoute.

He beat the offside trap to find space and comfortably side-footed past Niemi.

Including the late goals against Middlesbrough the week before, it was the fifth Saints had conceded in 46 minutes of football.

But they almost pulled one back on the stroke of half-time when David Prutton broke down the left and squared for Crouch, who forced Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson into an outstanding finger-tip save.

Redknapp replaced Mikael Nilsson with Andreas Jakobsson at half-time and switched formations to 3-5-2 with Dodd and Higginbotham moving to wing-back positions.

The team immediately looked more solid and threatening.

And it was Crouch who reduced the lead when Ledley King miscued a clearance as the 6ft 7ins Saints striker rose highest to head past Robinson.

With Prutton driving forward in midfield, an unlikely comeback briefly looked distantly possible.

But those hopes were extinguished on 61 minutes after Defoe reacted quickest when Niemi could only parry Brown's powerful shot.

For Saints, Kevin Phillips forced another smart save from Robinson before substitute Robbie Keane completed the Tottenham rout.

The Irishman broke beyond the Saints defence for Defoe's through-ball and shot under Niemi from close range.

Redknapp summed up the challenge ahead by suggesting that Saints have accumulated a squad high in quantity but shallow in quality.

Yet perhaps the most depressing comment was that he might have to rely on loans or free transfers next month rather than cash signings.

Why?

Saints have run at a profit in the past year, and there has been room for dividend pay-outs to shareholders.

In recent seasons, there have also been record merchandising, record season-ticket sales, record crowds and significant increases in ticket prices.

All that, yet no money for a one-off signing of impact when the team is in such a desperate position?

If that proves to be the case, fans will surely wonder what use an impressive increase in financial turnover actually is.

Saints must use the month of January to act wisely and perhaps decisively.

Their proud record of more than 25 years in the top-flight will depend on making the right decisions.

For as Tottenham proved on Saturday, even rocks can be smashed to smithereens when those made of granite are sidelined.

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