IT WAS A rather strange twist of fate that Saints’ unbeaten run was starting to really hurt – but this was hardly the way they wanted it to end.
Six games unbeaten going into the match against Bristol Rovers was of course a positive thing.
It proved Alan Pardew had made his team resilient and hard to beat.
But the reason it was a problem was because of those six matches only one game had been a victory.
It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that is not a formula for quickly climbing the table.
So after the salvaged point at Carlisle, Saints were all out to stop drawing and start winning.
As it turned out they lost.
The pressure is starting to just gently squeeze on to Saints now.
Pardew has assembled a good squad and they have been given time and breathing space, ten league games indeed, to get themselves together.
People have been patient and realised these things don’t happen overnight.
But with a home game against Gillingham at the weekend Saints need to start delivering what most people believe they can and should.
The game against Rovers took a while to going as the early stages saw long balls pinged from one end to the other, regularly bypassing the midfield who became involved in a scrap on the odd occasion the play was in the middle third.
In fact it took until 18 minutes for the first effort of any note, Adam Lallana’s low shot from distance straight at the keeper.
Just a minute later Kelvin Davis had his first test of the evening when Jeff Hughes fired a low shot towards the bottom corner but the Saints keeper got down smartly to turn it wide.
As the game warmed, there were half chances at both ends, Davis again called into action to save a free-kick and Rickie Lambert heading over after a terrific first time right-wing cross by Lloyd James.
Jo Kuffour could have done better on 32 minutes when Chris Dickson, a livewire playing on the shoulder of the last man, lifted the ball over a defender and into his path.
Kuffour failed to take his shot first time but, having been closed down, could have rolled it back to a teammate to finish. However, he opted to try and go it alone and was shut out.
It proved an important moment as two minutes later Saints were in front.
Lambert produced a moment of genuine quality with a terrific reverse pass between the centre halves that picked out perfectly the feet of Lallana.
He was quick to get the ball out of his feet and finish low past the advancing keeper for 1-0.
But Rovers were a dangerous side, playing with pace against a Saints side who lack that quality.
Kuffour tried his luck again from distance before Rovers got themselves level four minutes before the break.
It all came in a moment of confusion. Attention was diverted elsewhere after the referee had booked Dean Hammond for diving right on the edge of the Rovers area.
A quick free quick caught Saints out cold and Davis was facing a tough decision.
He opted to try and come out to clear the ball that was outside the top left hand corner of his area but Dickson’s pace ensured he didn’t make it in time.
Instead Davis was helpless as the Rovers striker knocked it round him and finished from an acute angle into the far bottom corner.
It was a precision finish because anywhere else and the back peddling Neal Trotman almost certainly would have cut it out.
The second half was a far more entertaining affair, often end to end, littered with good play and plenty of mistakes from both teams.
Alan Pardew made a tactical change, putting Papa Waigo up front, which looks his natural position, rather than out wide.
Part of the reason for the second half excitement was an early goal – and it went to Saints.
Just over 30 seconds after the restart, and before many spectators had returned to their seats, James’ cross was met by a thundering header from Lambert.
The ball smashed against the underside of the bar and bounced over the line and back out.
Play continued and Papa Waigo made sure by turning home at the far post though the referee confirmed after the game it was indeed Lambert’s goal.
You just knew though that on all the evidence of this season that they would need a second goal to calm the nerves, particularly against an attack minded, confident and dangerous Rovers outfit.
Morgan Schneiderlin so nearly gave them that with a powerful shot in the area after being found by a pass from Waigo. However, Mikkel Andersen in the Rovers goal made a terrific save.
Sure enough with Saints not able to take the chance to double the lead it was soon 2-2.
With 65 minutes gone sub Andy Williams picked out the overlapping run of Carl Regan down the right.
He brushed past Jacob Mellis and pushed on to the by-line with power and intent and fired a cut back ball into the danger zone.
It struck Kuffour and though he didn’t strike it cleanly it had enough on it to reach the far corner.
Saints had to weather a period of pressure after that as a rampant Rovers sensed victory.
Hughes volleyed over the bar when he had time to bring the ball down and really work Davis while the Saints keeper made a smart low stop from Kuffour.
On 77 minutes it was Saints’ turn to come close, Waigo this time finding Lallana whose first time shot was well saved.
But it was Saints who were caught with a real suckerpunch as Rovers did to them what they had done to Carlisle.
Again it was a goal with virtually the last kick of the game.
On this occasion it was five minutes into five minutes of stoppage time when Williams picked up the ball deep in the Saints half on the right.
He cut inside and was given the freedon of St Mary’s to curl an unbelievable left footed 25 yard shot into Davis’ opposite top corner. giving the Saints keeper no chance and leaving the fans and players stunned.