SAINTS are building a momentum the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years at the club.
Last night’s win at Bristol Rovers in the first round of the FA Cup was impressive for so many reasons, although a late collapse took some of the shine off it.
To come to a ground like the Memorial Stadium on a cold and wet Friday night, score three goals and dominate so much of the game is a testament to how far Saints have come under Alan Pardew.
As the manager said in the buildup to the tie, had a Premier League side been visiting, there would have been potential for a real upset.
Saints have already seen this season how good Rovers can be, losing 3-2 to them at St Mary’s in September.
But, despite those late jitters that caused a bit of worry, Saints’ performance was fully deserving of the victory.
Saints dominated much of the game and, like all good sides, stepped it up a gear when they needed to in the second half, with three goals in seven minutes that decided the game.
Saints now have a number of threats going forward.
David Connolly started his first game for the club, as Pardew switched to 4-4-2, and he once again showed just how good a striker he is, bagging two goals.
His partnership with Rickie Lambert is one that will have defences in League One trembling in their boots – and rightly so.
It is a strike pairing that clubs at this level, and even one above, can only dream of.
But, although Connolly struck twice, Michail Antonio was a real star too.
His pace and power down the right caused so many problems for the Rovers defence.
Antonio played a key part in Saints’ second goal and produced a brilliant surging run to score what ultimately proved the winner.
Pace is such a huge asset at any level and Antonio has it in abundance – Pardew has found a real gem in him from Reading.
The Saints boss will be concerned about the late collapse from his team, but despite that it was a well deserved win, as they go into the hat for the second round.
Lambert had a start he would rather forget, taking an air shot from 20 yards out in the first minute.
Andy Williams, who scored Rovers’ late winner at St Mary’s at the end of September, had the first real effort.
The right midfielder found himself in space on the right side of the area, but his angled shot was well kept out by Kelvin Davis.
Williams had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down in the 11th minute, after a challenge from Adam Lallana.
Chris Lines latched onto the ball in midfield and went on a driving run in the 17th minute, but his left foot shot across goal didn't have enough on it to trouble Davis.
Saints’ first effort of note arrived in the 20th minute, when Lallana hit a left foot shot from 25 yards that skidded just past the post.
Antonio produced a lovely bit of trickery down the right-hand side in the 26th minute, but Dean Hammond’s header from his cross went just over.
Lambert chested down Lloyd James’ cross to Connolly a minute later, but he sliced his right foot volley wide.
Rovers nearly took the lead in the 41st minute.
After a scramble from a corner, Byron Anthony completely missed his shot, but Carl Regan’s cutback was deflected goalwards, only for Dan Harding to head off the line.
Harding was booked moments later for a tug on Jo Kuffour’s shirt as he rampaged down the right wing.
An excellent tackle from Steve Elliott prevented Connolly getting through, before Lallana fired wide from 20 yards in the last minute of the half.
The opening exchanges of the second period were fairly dull in terms of goalmouth action.
James’ quick thinking released Antonio down the right in the 52nd minute.
Lambert charged in to meet his cross at the back post, but Anthony did brilliantly under pressure from the Saints frontman to head clear from close range.
Lambert nearly produced a moment of brilliance in the 61st minute.
After Connolly had been fouled 25 yards out, Lambert stepped up and curled a beautiful effort past Rhys Evans in the Rovers goal, only to see the ball hit the post and go wide.
But Saints weren’t to be denied two minutes later.
James’ quick free kick found Lallana in space down the left.
He got to the byline, pulled the ball across the face and Connolly charged in to turn home.
Five minutes later the lead was doubled, as Antonio broke at pace, covering a huge distance, before slipping the ball to Connolly unmarked in the box.
The former West Ham man made no mistake, clinically firing into the far corner with his left foot.
Two minutes later the Saints fans were in dreamland, as the brilliant Antonio went on another superb break, cut inside a defender and finished with his left foot.
Rovers pulled one back in the 74th minute, as Kuffour got down the right and squared for Darryl Duffy to score.
Davis made a great diving save from Ben Swallow as Rovers began to sense an astonishing comeback.
With nine minutes left, the ball fell to Anthony in the box, but he couldn’t find the target.
They should have had a second after Davis saved brilliantly from Williams’ drive, but Duffy couldn’t divert the rebound into an empty net from 12 yards.
Sub Oscar Gobern pulled at Kuffour in stoppage time, giving Rovers a spot-kick which Jeff Hughes duly dispatched.