JUST WHEN Saints really needed a performance to galvanise them they got one – but not a much needed win to go with it.
The Carling Cup is hardly top of the list of Saints priorities this season.
They have a ten point deficit to wipe off as soon as possible and after four games they have chipped away just two points.
Things have been slowly but surely moving in the right direction.
But you felt it needed something to bring everybody together, a performance of real quality and belief and also one that resulted in a confidence boosting win.
Against Birmingham last night Saints delivered one of those things and so nearly the other.
Their display was up and at them twinned with some real twinges of quality.
Birmingham may be Premier League new boys but on this evidence there was little to choose between the teams who last season were in the same division, not two apart.
The Blues may have decided to leave one or two players at home and chuck one or two in for a game but this by no means a reserve side.
They had a very expensive striker up front and good players all over the pitch, many of whom will figure very regularly in league action.
But on the night Saints just wanted it a bit more, they were just a bit better – but it wasn’t enough.
They deserved to win and it appeared for a refreshing change on this occasion a deserved result would actually be achieved rather than thrown away.
Alas it wasn’t to be.
Saints did prove they have a bit of depth in their squad and their fringe players also understand the way Alan Pardew is organising things and can adapt as and when.
Neal Trotman and Dean Hammond, two of the bright spots against Brentford, were cup tied and so enforced changes as well as optional ones had to be made.
But that same defensive solidity was on display even with half a different back line.
The attacking areas were also far better.
In particular the wide positions came in for plenty of stick after the Brentford draw but on this occasion Jacob Mellis was lively while Adam Lallana was on top form.
It’s fair to say that he is one of the Saints squad that seems to thrive against better opposition.
Saints were pretty much the better team for most of the game.
Lloyd James had the first chance, looping an effort just over the bar on 15 minutes.
After a big penalty appeal for Saints was waved away after Mellis went down in the area came a rare Blues first half chance.
Out of nowhere Christian Benitez pulled the trigger and unleashed a stinging 25 yard shot.
It cannoned off the post, shaking the frame of the goal and the ball fell to Gary McSheffrey in the centre of the area but he couldn’t turn the ball into the empty net.
Other than that Sebastian Larsson’s free kick and then low shot, both saved by Kelvin Davis, was about as good as it got for Birmingham in the first period.
The second half was a more even affair but, though the Blues created more chances, it was still Saints who had the balance of power and the momentum for the most part.
That was underlined when Lallana gave Saints a deserved lead seven minutes after the restart.
Saganowski’s persistence paid off and the ball fell to Lallana 20 yards out to the left of centre.
He took no time in dispatching a wonderful shot that curled into the far top corner for 1-0.
After that though Davis started to have to really earn his money.
First McSheffrey tested him with a shot after cutting in from the left before a long range free kick needed a fair bit of saving.
After a long delay after an injury that saw Graeme Murty stretchered off and changed the game, McSheffrey was at it again, this time with a drive from distance that saw Davis stay strong to turn the ball away.
After some good passing football Saints created an opening for Mellis who fired in a strong shot but Maik Taylor was able to save.
That proved to be something of a turning point in the game as a few of the problems Saints still have to overcome – chiefly remembering how to win a game – exposed themselves.
Birmingham got back level on 77 minutes. Benitez had the vision to slide a ball through into the path of the on-running Bowyer who produced a quality finish across Davis and the scores were level.
Bowyer thought he had set up the chance that would give his side the lead just two minutes later when he broke forward and squared to Benitez in space.
The striker’s shot was firm enough but Davis dived away to his left to produce an excellent save.
However, the reprieve was short lived.
Just a minute later Birmingham scored the decisive goal of the game as the ball was cut back from the right by-line to Lee Carsley on the edge of the area.
Davis got a hand to his first time side footed shot but couldn’t keep it out.
There was still a modicum of hope when the fourth official indicated there would be seven minutes of added time.
However, that came to nothing as Saints battled but couldn’t create a good chance.
They are so nearly there you can almost reach out and touch it.
They just need to remember how to win.