WHATEVER the long term future may hold for Saints, they have given themselves short term hope.
After a disappointing hat-trick of results over the last week or so they simply HAD to beat Crystal Palace at St Mary’s.
A win may not yet prove enough to stave off relegation but, without it, their fate would have been virtually sealed.
Watching the Palace match was something most long suffering Saints fans would have struggled to enjoy, even if the relief at the final whistle made it worthwhile.
Now Saints move onwards and hopefully upwards.
With three games remaining, and other teams around them in equally unpredictable form, it’s hard to know what they will need to stay up.
If they are to avoid relegation it looks almost certain to go to that final decider with Nottingham Forest.
But, from where they have been in the past few months, you would take that now.
They are going to need more wins, though, particularly next week when they face a Sheffield Wednesday team who, like Palace, have little to play for.
Those are the games you really need to take advantage of.
Saints failed to do that against Watford but managed it against a Palace team who were strong and physical but didn’t look ready to lay everything on the line for the cause with the summer just around the corner and no relegation or promotion to play for.
But from Saints’ point of view all they can do is beat what’s in front of them.
It was never pretty against Palace, nor was it ever likely to be, but getting those three points on the board was all that mattered and keeps them in it for a while longer.
There are far tougher tests to come, but it really is one hurdle at a time for Mark Wotte’s team at the moment.
It is tempting to study the runins, particularly with so few games remaining.
But Saints just have to go out with the mentality they have to win three more matches.
There is nothing else they can do.
Saints rarely looked in danger of losing against Palace, but they also made really hard work of winning.
Yes, Palace were dogged and big and strong, as you would expect.
Yes, they got men behind the ball and made life difficult for Saints.
But to say they were there for the taking from the first whistle would undoubtedly be fair.
That Saints at times looked like they might not take advantage would be worrying.
But right now it’s thankfully irrelevant as the manner of wins matters not one jot.
Pretty much all chances in the match were created by Saints.
Jason Euell fed the ball into David McGoldrick with just three minutes gone, but his touch let him down before Jan-Paul Saeijs tried an effort from distance that flew narrowly wide.
Bradley Wright-Phillips cut in from the right but saw Julian Speroni save his shot before Andrew Surman whistled a low drive from 25 yards just wide of the post.
Wright-Phillips was in the thick of the action again on 35 minutes when Speroni saved another of his efforts.
Then the Palace keeper accidentally collided with Surman and sustained an injury that saw him have to leave the field to have stitches.
With Palace having no keeper on the bench it meant Clint Hill temporarily donning the gloves, but Saints failed to take advantage, rarely getting the ball in behind or in the box.
He was only really tested when a corner broke to McGoldrick but the stand-in stopper was off his line to save well low down.
After Speroni had returned, he had to make saves from Wright- Phillips and Adam Lallana before the half was out.
There was also a touch of controversy as Rui Fonte was only booked for what appeared to be an arm in the face of Skacel.
The second half was more of the same – Saints pushing on but Palace happy to sit deep and absorb pressure.
Euell came close at the near post before Saeijs headed over Lloyd James’ free-kick under little pressure.
You felt Saints just needed one goal and Palace wouldn’t have the heart to come back.
And they got it on 67 minutes when McGoldrick cut in from the right and unleashed a left-footed shot from 25 yards that flew into the top corner.
The suspicion that one goal would be enough proved to be deadly accurate.
In truth, the remainder of the match passed with little incident until the very death.
A few late corners caused a bit of panic with one seeing Shefki Kuqi threaten Kelvin Davis’ goal for really the first time but the Saints keeper made sure it stayed out.
Saints still don’t look to have sorted out all their problems in that department but they certainly looked far more solid.
But this was a game Saints had to win, they should have won and they did win.
This is one step towards safety but they are far from there.
They have given themselves the chance to do it.
But they are going to need to be better, and equally as dogged, to complete another late escape.