THERE HAVE been those questioning the sanity of Jan Poortvliet and his Saints employers in recent weeks.

Surely you can't play total football in the Championship' they have said.

The kids will get bullied out of it in this league' has been another slight at the current direction.

But boy, oh boy, oh boy, Saints showed at Derby they can do and they won't be.

At Pride Park Saints were simply brilliant.

It's actually hard to put into words just how good they were and even more difficult to remember the last away performance that was this exhilarating.

If, and it's still a big if, Poortvliet's side can produce this on a regular basis then hold on to your hats because anything's possible.

This performance, particularly in the second half, was the very embodiment of the beautiful game.

It was so easy on the eye, the passing so slick and crisp, the movement just awesome.

Saints played total football and it left you almost speechless.

Derby, who in their ranks have guys used to playing at the very top level of the game, hardly even touched the ball in the second half.

At one stage, in fact it was 76 minutes, three Saints players combined down the right.

There was a combination of six one-touch passes between them, each player spinning off to create space and form the triangle again.

It was so good that the massed ranks of Derby fans just stopped what they were doing and applauded.

There was nothing else they could do - this is what you pay money to see.

Before we get too carried away we must try and put this into some kind of context.

Derby were awful - really awful.

After Saints weathered an early burst, their confidence visibly drained, nobody wanted the ball for fear of making a mistake and they ended up playing in straight lines.

As ever when you're gripped by fear you don't pass the ball but end up whacking it long. That played right into Saints' hands, giving them easy possession and the chance to build from the back.

If you were being critical you would also say Saints squandered far too many chances.

They should have been out of sight by the end of the match and on another day that 1-0 lead will disappear with a last minute free kick being bundled home or with a shot from distance rocketing in.

They have to be more clinical in front of goal.

After Derby's bright and determined start Saints found their feet and created their first one-on-one, this time Roy Carroll saving with his legs from Lee Holmes and Jay McEveley getting back to head off the line.

The second, and best of the oneon- ones, came on 20 minutes as David McGoldrick found himself as pretty much the only player in the Derby half.

Perhaps he had too much time to think about what he was going to do because in the end his indecision proved costly as Carroll simply stood tall and blocked.

Robbie Savage sidefooted over when he should have done better with a rare opportunity for the Rams before Saints gave up another great chance.

This time it was Adam Lallana played through but again he could only find Carroll, though in fairness he had to take his chance a lot quicker than the previous two.

After the break Saints stepped up another gear but were given a timely warning that their dominance needed to be translated into goals when Kelvin Davis had to emulate Carroll and save the day when Kris Commons got through one-on-one.

Perhaps stung by that Saints went straight up the other end and scored what proved to be the winner.

Jamie White whipped the ball in from the right, Lallana's first shot was saved by Carroll but his second hit the underside of the bar. It bounced down and clearly over the line but McGoldrick made sure.

McGoldrick still had time for three more chances, heading onto the top of the bar, forcing Carroll to tip another header over the bar and blasting over from a decent position.

In the end though the misses didn't prove costly.

This is only one game and there will be far harder tests to come.

But at least we know total football does work and Saints have the players to play it. For that fact we can all rejoice and enjoy the ride.