IF ever there was a game that proved why it is worth staying to the final whistle of a football match, this was it.
For 90 minutes Saints and Millwall played out a fairly scrappy game of few chances.
In tricky conditions with a pitch that was cutting up, both teams tried to get the ball down and play.
But, understandably, mistakes were too commonplace to make for a flowing game.
After a right battle in the first half, things did perk up a little in the second as both teams showed their intent to try and win the game by opening up and attacking.
However, as the fourth official held up his board to show a minimum of three minutes of stoppage time to be added, many headed for the exits accepting a point apiece and an inevitable goalless
Little argument that a draw was a fair result, but after taking the lead so late on Saints let two points slip away. Generally encouraging start for a new defence. Good to see different faces in the team – the whole squad is needed with so many games coming up.Adam Leitch
Well, at the end of those three minutes it was a point apiece but the game was not goalless.
The late, late drama that saw Saints think they had won it only to then let two points slip through their fingers was hardly a fitting climax to the game, but a welcome one.
Expectations around St Mary’s are flying high but Saints fans should not be downhearted with a draw at Millwall.
Yes, the manner in which a win – which would not really have been merited – was thrown away was annoying, but it needs to be kept in context.
The trouble is every time Saints win a game they are apparently definitely going to get in the play-off.
Every time they fail to win they are definitely not getting there and we have another season of League One to endure.
It needs to be remembered that the play-offs are still a distant dream.
The club have set their sights on it but for Saints to complete Alan Pardew’s wish and win 14 out of their remaining 21 league games to get there is a tall order.
The margin for error is fine and the Saints ‘project’ should be about a sustained future.
If money is being thrown at it for instant success and to make a quick buck, then supporters will be left much more disappointed in years to come than they are at conceding a late goal at Millwall.
It may happen that way, we don’t honestly know various intentions.
But you would have to urge the fans to have patience and that way hope that others respond likewise.
Millwall are going to be a very hard team to beat at the New Den for anybody – let alone a side with a 75 per cent new defence.
It was a brave gamble by Pardew to field all three of his new defensive signings straightaway, especially when he had the experience of Chris Perry
available to him.
But Jose Fonte and Dan Seaborne are big lads and were needed for the aerial battle while Jon Otsemobor is a useful addition at right back.
That part of Pardew’s plan didn’t really fail – they all did as well as could be expected in a sink or swim situation and promised plenty more to come.
It was in midfield that Saints lacked a little.
There has been so much talk of formations over recent weeks but Pardew is right to stick with 4-4-2 for the most part, home and away.
Saints desperately need another striker, of that there is no doubt.
In fact, they have needed a striker much more desperately than they needed two centre backs and a right back, but one will surely come before January is out.
Adam Lallana did a good job against Millwall, proving he has learnt a lot about playing up front alongside the always combative Rickie Lambert.
But with David Connolly still having not totally unexpected niggles to contend on his way back from injury, the striking cupboard is rather bare.
Yes, Pardew has some options in the shape of Michail Antonio and Papa Waigo but, while both have the pace to scare defenders, they tend to better
employ it from wide areas.
The sum total of Saints’ first half chances were headers put wide by Dean Hammond, who was later forced off injured, and Seaborne.
In the scrappy first 45, Millwall did come a little closer, Kelvin Davis having to make a fantastic double save on 36 minutes.
The first was low down to his right from a fierce low drive from Alan Dunne. He then quickly picked himself up and managed to block the close range rebound from Lewis Grabban.
The second half was thankfully much more entertaining than the first as both teams got to grips with the conditions and were committed to trying to win.
For all that, though, clear-cut chances were still at a premium which made Grabban’s miss when through one-on-one with Davis three minutes after the restart all the more costly.
Danny Schofield also extended Davis with a 20-yard shot while Millwall felt they should have had a penalty when the same man went down under pressure from Fonte.
Saints were also doing plenty of pressing but it was a series of half chances rather than one you felt they had to score from.
So, when over a minute into three minutes of stoppage time they took the lead, it looked as though they had nicked two extra bonus points.
Lambert was unsurprisingly the scorer, and unsurprisingly via a 30- yard free kick.
The only surprise was that rather than flying in directly it took a massive deflection, changing direction and giving David Forde no chance as it looped past him into the net.
Saints fans thought their team had won it. Maybe a few of the players did too.
Whatever, 25 seconds after the game restarted Liam Trotter was able to glide through the Saints team before opening his body and finishing low across Davis and into the far corner.
Those that chose to stick it out to the death rather than rush for the exits were rewarded.
Saints were probably wishing they could have got away just a little early themselves with an extra couple of points on the board.
But the result was about fair in the end and not a bad one either.