EVEN WITH modern scouting networks and the advent of ProZone, Saints this season will still hit teams with an element of surprise.

So it's reassuring to know that they can win games even when they don't have that.

The inbox of every professional football manager in the country is full of scouting reports and DVDs of their upcoming opponents.

The introduction of computer analysis has also added another layer to the incredible array of information at a manager's disposal.

Even if you don't believe in going over every detail, or that putting too much of it into your player's heads is not a good thing, then you at least take something from it.

When preparing for a game, you will know who is likely to come up against your team, what formation they play, what style, their movement, dangermen.

It gives your players a heads up on what to expect and allows you to tailor your selection and tactics to try and counteract it.

But, even with all that, when players get out on the field, they still have to battle with what is put in front of them.

It isn't black and white but fast and physical and that's how mistakes are made and games won and lost.

The fact most players in the Championship won't have come up against Saints' youngsters before, maybe even the system they play in or the way they play it, has probably helped them so far.

So last night it was good to see how it would work against a team that have seen it before.

Birmingham were at St Mary's just ten days before last night's Carling Cup second round clash.

The first encounter had seen Saints dominate the first half and go in 1-0 up at the break.

But you felt as if the Blues somewhat worked them out at half-time and came out for the second period to nullify Saints' gameplan.

They did it successfully, Saints had no further answers and Birmingham ran out 2-1 winners.

So this time you couldn't be sure what to expect.

If Birmingham had already worked Saints out once and Jan Poortvliet's team couldn't adapt, then what hope this time?

Well, actually, Saints proved it's not just the element of surprise they have in their favour this season but also that they have good footballers confident in what they are doing.

It was in fact they who had worked out Birmingham, on paper thus far the best team in the Championship.

In the first half, Saints came out and played some of the slick football we have come to expect.

Chances weren't as free flowing as they were at Derby, but though the Blues undoubtedly had a bad day at the office, they were nowhere near as bad as the Rams.

Saints took the lead on 17 minutes with a typical example of their incisive yet brilliantly simple play.

Lloyd James crossed deep from the right, picking out the head of David McGoldrick. He cushioned his header back to the edge of the area, where Lee Holmes ran on to meet it with a sweet half volley that rocketed past Colin Doyle and into the bottom corner for 1-0.

Saints didn't really push on to create many openings but did always look in control, containing Birmingham's many attacking threats impressively.

By half-time, the nearest the Blues had come was Gary McSheffrey's free-kick that was curled over the bar and a hopelessly slashed shot from Garry O'Connor that never looked like troubling Bartosz Bialkowski.

Saints, on the other hand, had come desperately close to doubling their lead.

With nine minutes to go before the break, Holmes' right wing freekick found Adam Lallana at the far post.

His first effort cannoned off the bar and, when the ball came back to him, he tried again - this time hitting the inside of the post and seeing the ball fly clear.

The second half was again about Saints containing, neither side finding chances easy to come by.

Bialkowski was called into action on 74 minutes to save from Quincy Owusu-Abeyie's low drive across him.

But Saints wrapped it up with five minutes left, Lallana missing the woodwork this time to rifle hard and low past Doyle and into the far corner, to put Saints into the next round and show even more strings to their bow.