MIDDLESBROUGH 1 - SAINTS 3

VOLLEY GOOD: Crouch seals a vital victory for Saints as he puts his side into a 3-1 lead against Middlesbrough. Echo picture by Chris Moorhouse.

VOLLEY GOOD: Crouch seals a vital victory for Saints as he puts his side into a 3-1 lead against Middlesbrough. Echo picture by Chris Moorhouse.

First published in 04-05 Season Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Sports Writer

AT LAST Saints win away from home in the Premiership. At last Saints are out of the bottom three. At last there is expectation rather than just hope the club will stay up.

It may have taken 11 months for an away Premiership win to come, but when it did it was so sweet.

Perhaps it's tempting fate but maybe the luck is starting to shine on Saints.

Middlesbrough were injury ravaged and understandably jaded after so many games with a threadbare squad of fit players.

It was the perfect time to play them. But let that take nothing away from Saints.

They have had a few of those chances so far this season and the pressure has proved too much.

Not this time. They were handed an opportunity to take a win and, when they needed it most, they grabbed it. Every area of the pitch was superb.

Every combination was superb. What a win!

It's hard to single out players for special praise but what an impact Jamie Redknapp and Nigel Quashie have had.

Yet again they were superb against Boro and provided the platform for victory.

Redknapp is brains of midfield with some tough tackles and fantastic distribution.

Quashie is a powerhouse, a driving force, a fulcrum around which everything else operates.

When you add to that Claus Lundekvam and Andreas Jakobsson looking solid behind them, Rory Delap and Paul Telfer defending doggedly on the right and Olivier Bernard and Graeme Le Saux offering so much width and quality balls from the left, then there is plenty for the frontmen to finish off.

And there are few finer at finishing off at the moment than Peter Crouch.

Saints, who survived an early scare thanks to a marvellous challenge from Quashie, opened the scoring on 14 minutes.

Bernard won a challenge with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on the edge of the area and the ball went through to Henri Camara.

On another day he might have been flagged offside, but he wasn't and squared a superb ball across the area.

It seemed the chance had passed as it rolled past the far post but Jakobsson was alert and stormed in to sidefoot Saints into the lead.

Saints seemed in total control of the match then.

They looked comfortable and composed at the back and every time Boro got into the final third they never looked like scoring.

But four minutes before half- time Saints were dealt the kind of blow that before Harry and Jamie Redknapp, Nigel Quashie et al might have proved fatal.

Bolo Zenden unleashed a long-range shot that swerved in the air. Antti Niemi should have held onto it but showed a touch of rustiness after so long out and spilled it.

Joseph-Desire Job was first on the scene and his touch diverted the ball to Hasselbaink who tapped home an equaliser.

It almost got worse a minute later but Niemi saved well from Szilard Nemeth.

Going in at 1-1 at half-time was disappointing for Saints after a first-half display where they deserved to lead.

But it didn't get them down and they came out looking as if it was their destiny to win.

Boro were handed a warning when Crouch's header from Le Saux's cross curled just wide of the post, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

After Niemi had again saved from Nemeth, Saints powered back into the lead on 60 minutes.

Bernard played in a lovely cross that invited Crouch to get ahead of his man and head across Mark Schwarzer and into the far corner. He didn't need asking twice.

Just five minutes later Schwarzer did save from Crouch but again it didn't take the big man long to find the net.

On 66 minutes Le Saux floated in a magnificent high ball and Crouch proved he can score with his feet as well.

He produced the deftest of touches to lift it across Schwarzer and into the far corner again. It was a magnificent goal.

This time there were none of the wobbles displayed when Boro clawed their back from two goals down at St Mary's to grab a draw in Harry Redknapp's first match in mid-December.

Saints are stronger now, more capable and more confident.

They look as though they believe they will stay up.

It's nice to be able to share that confidence.

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