12:01pm Monday 16th March 2009
By Gordon Simpson
SAINTS cannot afford many more missed opportunities if they are to survive this season.
Any room for error that Mark Wotte’s men might have is fast running out.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw with QPR may actually have moved Saints closer to safety, but it was a massive disappointment.
A win would have seen them jump out of the relegation zone for the first time since the turn of the year.
Instead, they remain second from bottom and still in real danger of suffering a devastating drop to League One.
The Championship table undoubtedly looks far better than it did just a few weeks ago.
And Saints should be given great credit for a run that has seen them lose just once in their last six games.
Without that, they would have been in the same situation as Charlton – dead and buried.
But that cannot hide the fact that the last week has been a major disappointment.
Two home games against sides that were both poor on quality – Derby and QPR – have yielded just two points.
With the situation Saints are in, that is not really good enough.
The simple fact is that, as you read this, they should be out of the bottom three.
You can argue they were unfortunate not to beat Derby, but there can be no such excuses against QPR.
Saturday’s opponents were there for the taking and, although Saints didn’t create much, they did generate a few golden opportunities that should have been enough to take all three points.
Wotte said afterwards that Saints must be more clinical and he is right.
There is no doubt now, from what we have all seen since they beat Preston so emphatically 3-1, that Saints have the qualities necessary to stay up.
In fact, with what they now have under Wotte, they really should survive.
But they absolutely cannot afford to drop points that they should pick up.
There are just too few games left.
Had they taken four points from Derby and QPR then they would have earned themselves a little bit of leeway for the next three crucial games.
Instead, they now have to face Blackpool away, Charlton at home and then travel to Watford knowing that a bad spell could leave them with too much work to do.
The pressure is well and truly on and, as games continue to pass by, it will only increase.
The good news is that Saints have still done a lot of hard work in the past few weeks to drag themselves back into touch with those above them.
You can argue that there are at least five teams, up to Blackpool, who are in serious danger of relegation.
All but one of them – Barnsley – have played a game more than Saints. With that being the case, their fate is very much in their own hands – and Saints are so close to getting out of it.
But they cannot afford to miss these golden opportunities when they arise, because time is just too precious right now.
Saints should have taken the lead against QPR inside the first two minutes.
Jason Euell muscled his way onto a long ball from defence and only had Radek Cerny to beat.
But, instead of shooting, Euell tried to go round the keeper and ran the ball out of play.
Kelvin Davis had to be alert in the 12th minute to prevent an own goal, as Lloyd James nearly diverted Liam Miller’s ball into the box past his own keeper.
Damion Stewart should have done better with a close-range effort midway through the first half, but he nodded Kaspars Gorkss’ header across goal over the bar.
Davis made a smart save at his near post from Hogan Ephraim’s deflected shot in the 36th minute.
Euell had another sight of goal four minutes before half-time, when David McGoldrick’s clever through ball found him in space.
However, Euell’s shot didn’t have enough power.
It proved to be the last effort of a first half that most people were pleased to see the back of.
Jordi Lopez had the first sight of goal after the break, but his left foot shot from 20 yards was just wide of the post.
McGoldrick nearly broke free in the 51st minute, after charging down Gorkss’ clearance, but the ball ran just out of play before he could reach it.
Euell then skewed a volley wide from a tight angle, after Simon Gillett had found him in the box.
James and McGoldrick were both booked within a minute of each other for fouls.
Marek Saganowski had a half chance just after the hour mark, chesting down James’ ball into the box, but he sliced his volley high and wide.
After a clever interchange with McGoldrick, Adam Lallana had an opening on the edge of the box, but he fired wide when he should possibly have played in Saganowski to his left.
Wotte introduced Jake Thomson for Lallana with 16 minutes to go and the 19-year-old had a positive impact down the right.
Bradley Wright-Phillips was also brought on, for Saganowski, and instantly started causing the visiting defence problems.
His cutback from the byline with about ten minutes remaining looked like it would lead to the deadlock being broken, as it found Andrew Surman in space ten yards out.
Sadly, the midfielder bounced a weak right foot shot into the arms of Cerny.
It was an unfortunate miss for Surman, who pulled a great chance wide from a similar position against Derby when the score was 1-0.
It is difficult to criticise the midfielder, who has done a lot for Saints this season.
Unfortunately, with the situation Saints are in, such misses can be magnified.
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