JAN Poortvliet will probably feel the 4-1 defeat at Coventry was a missed opportunity.
After two good wins in their last two outings, it was a game that Saints could afford to lose – well, as much as you can afford to lose any game.
But even a point at the Ricoh Arena would have rounded off an excellent week. After a tough and at times shaky start to the season, Saints seemed to have cracked it.
They didn’t play particularly well against Doncaster but got a terrific away victory.
They followed that with a better performance against Norwich, but still not as good as they are capable of and got another win.
So, travelling to Coventry in confident mood, you felt a decent performance and at least a point would give a sense of momentum going into the international break.
In fact even a good performance and a narrow defeat might have just about achieved the same.
But what happened at Coventry meant the break will be spent ponder more on problems that still exist rather than everything that has gone right.
The formation is the main thing being questioned.
With the way Saints are playing, the extent that the full backs will be exposed is a lingering concern.
Opposition managers have picked up on it, loading diagonal balls out wide, playing pacy widemen, doubling up with an overlapping full back.
You feel a little for those at left and right back as they find themselves in the firing line.
Saints have also been vulnerable to quick counter attacks for much the same reason – pouring forward in numbers, giving the ball away cheaply and then being left open.
Poortvliet has to decide whether the formation is the problem or whether the personnel he is playing in the various positions needs changing. Or, of course, he may feel it is a matter of time before it comes right – but if he opts for that approach he needs things to go well after the international break.
With five games in two weeks coming up, Saints can’t afford a few more defeats.
They did start well at Coventry. They were moving the ball around nicely but, again, didn’t take full of advantage of it.
Adam Lallana dragged wide from distance while David McGoldrick couldn’t quite get enough on a teasing cross from Joseph Mills.
Saints paid the price as Coventry took the lead on 26 minutes.
It came from both wide areas as down the left the chance was created for Leon McKenzie to cross to the far post where Jay Tabb stormed in off his wing to beat Mills to the ball and head home.
Saints had a chance to respond quickly but McGoldrick failed to hit the target when the ball was pulled back to him 12 yards out.
Coventry started to apply the pressure and should have scored a second when they won a penalty.
Ollie Lancashire caught Leon Best just inside the area as he ran across him.
Elliott Ward stepped up and tried a cheeky chip but merely stabbed a gentle catch to Kelvin Davis, who will never have an easier penalty save to make.
The Sky Blues didn’t relent, however, and had another great chance when Best found himself free at the far post but struck the woodwork when he should have scored.
The pressure paid off, though, on 34 minutes. Aron Gunnarsson chucked in a long throw, Ward flicked it into the six yard box where McKenzie had lost marker McGoldrick and finished past Davis into the bottom corner.
It could have been even worse at half-time had Davis not stayed strong and saved with his body when Gunnarsson was through.
Poortvliet made no changes at the break but saw his side concede three minutes after the restart.
Again the ball was out on the left as McKenzie played in overlapping full back Danny Fox, whose low cross picked out Best sliding in to turn home from close range.
Poortvliet made a triple change and Saints did get better as Coventry let their standards slip.
Saints gave themselves a glimmer of hope on 63 minutes when Bradley Wright-Phillips mis-hit a shot that Andrew Surman headed home, showing great reactions.
After Michael Doyle had blasted over from eight yards, Saints had a glorious opportunity. McGoldrick was in with just the keeper to beat but his effort was weak and provided a comfortable save for Keiren Westwood, before the keeper made a tougher save from Surman at his near post.
That woke Coventry up and they sealed the win with three minutes remaining as Freddy Eastwood stood up a far post cross and Tabb again ran off his wing to volley home and leave Saints with a feeling of what might have been.