1:28pm Saturday 3rd June 2006
By Adam Leitch
TIGER WOODS, with a full complement of clubs, could barely have produced a better range of effects than midfield pass-masters Nigel Quashie and Jamie Redknapp last night.
But even a club golfer would confirm that the ability to roll the ball into the hole is ultimately the difference between champions and journeymen.
And, despite some excellent approach play, Saints suffered from a brief attack of the yips at The Hawthorns.
They were comfortably the better side, but missed several excellent chances to kill off a dogged but limited West Brom team.
The best fell to David Prutton, but Henri Camara was also guilty of spurning several good chances.
It would be churlish to overly criticise individual misses after such a strong team display, but the result left mixed emotions.
Frustration was initially the overwhelming sentiment at the feeling of another two points dropped.
Yet, on reflection, the positives outweighed the negatives.
As Harry Redknapp himself indicated, this Saints team now looks the best of those fighting to avoid the drop.
History has shown that does not necessarily equate to Premiership survival, but it's a pretty major advantage and Redknapp's side has taken shape and does now look well balanced.
The biggest boost was a much improved defensive display with Andreas Jakobsson preferred to Calum Davenport and giving the sort of commanding performance that has often been lacking from the centre of defence this season.
It is the first time boss Redknapp has not played one of his transfer window signings in a league match when they have been fit, but it proved a good decision.
Elsewhere, it was pretty much guaranteed that Quashie and Redknapp Jnr would return in the centre of midfield and Saints dominated that area of the pitch.
It's no coincidence that Quashie's presence has coincided with two of the team's best performances this season.
West Brom, though, made the livelier start in the early stages last night with some slick passing.
On eight minutes the pace of Rob Earnshaw helped him get the wrong side of Rory Delap and he was bundled over on the edge of the penalty area.
The resulting free-kick cannoned off the wall and Jakobsson made an excellent block.
Moments later the Swede made an important last-gasp challenge on Kevin Campbell.
Saints, however, were looking assured at the back and gradually began to find their stride.
On 13 minutes, Graeme Le Saux swung in a pin-point cross which Peter Crouch met, forcing West Brom goalkeeper Russell Hoult to parry onto the post and clear.
Saints began varying their attacks and were utilising the electric pace of Camara to good effect.
On 23 minutes, David Prutton launched a ball behind the Baggies' defence and Camara sprinted clear. He drew Hoult out of his goal but floated his effort just wide.
But for all their control, Saints had the woodwork to thank after 33 minutes when Kieran Richardson unleashed a rasping 25-yard drive which beat Paul Smith and rattled the cross-bar.
Camara, though, continued to look the most dangerous player on the pitch and had further chances to put Saints ahead.
Minutes before half-time he found space to force Hoult into an excellent one-handed reaction-save from Le Saux's cross.
Then, shortly after the hour-mark, the Senegalese star almost undid West Brom with a fine individual effort.
Camara latched onto a through-ball down the right, totally skinned Thomas Gaardsoe for pace and then glided past Neil Clement.
The build-up had been pure class, but the finish was not forthcoming and he skewed his shot over.
Moments later, it was Quashie's turn to almost break the deadlock.
He timed his run from midfield to meet a flick-on from Crouch, chested it down but powered his effort straight at Hoult.
Next came the golden opportunity.
Quashie had produced a good piece of skill to jink inside and release left-back Olivier Bernard.
The Frenchman surged to the by-line and teed up Prutton who had found space just six yards out.
A goal looked certain, but the midfielder failed to keep his volley under control and it flew agonisingly the wrong side of the crossbar.
There was still time in the dying minutes for Redknapp to test Hoult with a deflected free-kick but West Brom had clung on for a point.
It left Saints reflecting on perhaps their best display away from St Mary's of the season and one which puts them above Norwich and within two points of Crystal Palace.
But they could not feel satisfied.
Performances might eventually bring more points.
But it's points not performances that will keep Saints in the Premiership.
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