BRENTFORD 1 - SAINTS 3

Daily Echo: CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Paul Telfer (number 33, centre) finds himself grounded as Brentford players scrap for every ball, while Matt Oakley is quickly on hand to clear the danger for Saints. Daily Echo picture by Paul Collins CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Paul Telfer (number 33, centre) finds himself grounded as Brentford players scrap for every ball, while Matt Oakley is quickly on hand to clear the danger for Saints. Daily Echo picture by Paul Collins

IN THE FA Cup, pretty football plays second fiddle to getting through to the next round.

That was probably just as well for Saints last night, as their football wasn't that pretty but the result was effective.

It was always going to be a tough night for Harry Redknapp's men in their fifth round replay at Griffin Park.

Brentford were up for it, the atmosphere in the old, tight ground was electric and the pitch had kindly been wrecked by the last match of the London Broncos rugby team.

And so it proved hard work - but Saints also had a hand in making it even harder.

During the first half, it seemed an upset was a real possibility.

Redknapp was forced into quite a few changes and suddenly the team had the look of the pre-Redknapp era about it - and it also played like Saints in the pre-Redknapp era.

The defence was as shaky as it has been at any point this season while, in the first half, the midfield was pretty poor.

Even Paul Smith seemed to be struggling - perhaps nerves on his return to the ground where he made his name.

The only salvation for Saints was seeing Kevin Phillips slowly playing himself back into form but even better Peter Crouch being a tower of strength in more ways than one.

Thank goodness for Crouch, who has provided the goals that have saved Saints' season.

Again he was on hand last night with two more to keep his mighty impressive run going.

In the second half, though, Saints looked a different team.

Paul Telfer really stepped up a gear in the centre of midfield and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and Saints just about deserved to go through.

The key difference was their style of play.

Yes, the pitch was in a poor state for a passing game but Saints proved in the second period that it was possible.

It was rarely even tried in the first 45 with fruitless long balls up to Crouch and not enough support running on from the middle of the park.

Saints could hardly have got off to a worse start.

They were lucky not to concede after three minutes when a free- kick was only half cleared to Eddie Hutchinson but he put his shot wide when he should have done better.

But just a minute later, the same player made no mistake and put the League 1 side into the lead.

There was chaos in the Saints area after Smith's weak punch out and, after a shot deflected back off a Saints body, Hutchinson was on hand to fire home the opener.

Griffin Park went wild and then the smell of an upset was well and truly in the air.

But Saints responded in the best way possible - by equalising seven minutes later.

Phillips brought down Rory Delap's high ball on his chest and spun and shot. Stuart Nelson saved his effort but the ball came out to Crouch, who was on hand to sidefoot home at the far post.

There was a sense at that point that maybe Saints would take control and go on to win easily.

Brentford, however, had other ideas and fought for every ball - and won the majority of them in the first half.

Jay Tabb came close while Hutchinson almost had another when Smith left himself stranded from a cross but the Brentford man's header hit the bar and the follow up from Deon Burton was cleared off the line by Calum Davenport.

Redknapp worked his magic at half-time and Saints came out and closed off the tie.

With 67 minutes gone Olivier Bernard broke up play on the edge of the Saints area and set Matt Oakley free.

As he ran into the Brentford half, it was three on three.

He pushed the ball out wide to Crouch, who produced a superb cross to pick out Phillips at the far post, and he duly finished the chance.

Nelson had to make a good save from Phillips but, for the remainder of the game, Saints looked reasonably comfortable.

They calmed any possible last minute nerves when they added a third in injury-time.

Substitute Neil McCann crossed and Crouch was again lurking at the far post to turn home.

It certainly wasn't a vintage Saints performance but that doesn't matter right now.

What matters is winning and Redknapp would take a dogged display to earn three points any day at the moment.

Let's just hope that winning proves a habit from now on.

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