AFTER the frustration of inactivity, it was hard to be sure how Saints would perform when they got back to action. But what wasn’t in doubt was how badly they needed a couple of wins.
With all the recent call-offs, Saints have had a long time to stew on the defeat to Brentford way back on December 11.
And though players were fit and available again, it had been so long since some of them had played even selection wasn’t a straightforward procedure for Nigel Adkins.
But both the Saints boss and his team proved they were on top of their game with a total St Mary’s demolition of promotion rivals Huddersfield for the second season running.
It was a vital three points.
With four away games rearranged for midweek slots due to weather and FA Cup related postponements, Saints had to make the most of two more back-to-back home games.
Things are going to get a lot tougher in the second half of the season with so many away trips to come, so Saints had to take advantage while they could – and, boy, did they do that.
The first half was an absolute ripsnorter.
After a breathless first 45 minutes, the score could have been virtually anything such was the number of chances created, particularly by Adkins’ men.
Saints were first to create with Chamberlain’s ball to the far post being hit goalwards first time by Adam Lallana only for a despairing header from Peter Clarke to direct it just wide when it looked to be heading in.
There was relief for Saints, though, when on ten minutes Anthony Pilkington’s left footed cross from the right picked out Alan Lee six yards out but his header hit the post.
Rickie Lambert tested Alex Smithies with a reaction shot two minutes later only for the Huddersfield keeper to save.
The Town stopper was in action again moments later.
This time there was a brilliant display of close control inside the area from Lallana to buy himself the room to get a shot off from eight yards out, but Smithies blocked with his legs.
Huddersfield were not content to sit back, though, and continued to push the game along.
They should have taken the lead on 14 minutes when a simple pass to Lee Novak split the Saints defence.
Novak squared the ball to Scott Arfield but, with an open goal at his mercy from ten yards out, he sidefooted wide.
But the Huddersfield despair was only short lived as they did get ahead just a minute later.
There was some controversy as the Terriers won a cheap free kick for a foul on Lee by Radhi Jaidi. The free kick was taken quickly but clearly from the wrong place.
It was spread out to Gary Roberts on the left and his cross was headed back across goal and into the corner by Novak.
Saints could have buckled at that point but they picked themselves up and started to batter their third-placed visitors.
Guly do Prado missed two decent chances, heading wide in acres of space after being picked out by Lallana before blasting over from a tighter angle after being fed in by Morgan Schneiderlin.
When Saints did get their deserved equaliser, it was not actually as a result of a brilliantly crafted chance but rather a pot shot that came off.
A quick left wing throw found Lambert, who just smashed a half volley goalwards that Smithies should have kept out at his near post but pushed into the net.
Just four minutes later Saints took the lead with a goal that was very much built on skill as Chamberlain got the ball into his feet in the area.
He dragged back to leave a defender on the floor before getting it out of his feet and burying low past Smithies.
It could have been even better had Lallana’s blistering shot, after square passes first from Chamberlain and then Do Prado, not rattled the crossbar.
Saints continued the forward momentum in the second half as, just after the restart, Lambert hit a shot from 25 yards that took a slight deflection and needed a full length save by Smithies to keep out.
Huddersfield had appeals for a penalty turned down when the ball appeared to strike Dean Hammond’s arm in the area, but it looked accidental.
However, Saints were soon on the front foot again and bagged another goal.
This time it was a conventional set piece, superbly executed.
Lallana whipped in a right wing free kick and Jaidi wanted it most to power home a header from six yards out for 3-1.
Saints were virtually lining up to get shots away, such was the ease at which they were picking Huddersfield apart.
Dean Hammond was the next to test Smithies with a drilled effort from 20 yards that the keeper had to beat wide.
It wasn’t long before another goal came along, though.
On 72 minutes some slick and crisp Saints passing saw the ball end up at the feet of sub Richard Chaplow just outside the area.
He quickly moved the ball across to the left and drilled a shot that skidded low past Smithies diving to his left and into the bottom corner.
Kelvin Davis was forced into his only real save of note as he blocked a shot from distance with his knees.
But by that stage Saints were in total control and it was only a question of whether they could match their five goal efforts of last season against Huddersfield.
In the end they had to settle for four, but that was not exactly a great hardship as an important and morale boosting three points were assured.