AS the Saints players head off on their summer holidays, it's time to reflect on a season that never really delivered what it promised.

Many fans started the campaign with perhaps overly-optimistic dreams of what could be achieved and they will be bitterly disappointed.

But, even for the realists, a little more was probably expected.

Saints may have suffered from raising expectation levels with an eighth-placed Premiership finish and an FA Cup final appearance last season.

What we probably learned this year is what many expected - that Saints were punching slightly above their weight last time out.

This year, we had the disappointment of the first round UEFA Cup exit - and the FA Cup went the same way.

There was a great opportunity in the Carling Cup but that ended in the quarter-finals stages at Bolton and, despite being fourth in the Premiership at Christmas, the final table shows Saints skulking in the bottom half in 12th.

As was the case last summer, there's no guarantee looking ahead as to whether Saints will do better or worse next season.

You only need look at the pack of clubs between sixth and 17th to see so many teams which have done better than fans expected and some of last season's achievers who've done considerably worse.

It would take a brave man to say whether the likes of Aston Villa or Charlton will do as well again or whether Spurs or Everton will do as poorly.

Saints without doubt fall into that category.

Everything will depend on this summer's transfer dealings.

With hindsight, Saints never fully recovered from the sale of Wayne Bridge last summer.

The left-hand side axis of Bridge and Chris Marsden was the key to much of their success and it was destroyed when Saints sold Bridge to Chelsea.

Not only did the side lose a great defender but also one of their best attackers.

And, with Graeme Le Saux's season blighted by injuries, no one has ever filled that void.

Therefore, there will be an emphasis on Saints not to sell a big name again this summer or the same could happen.

In particular, it is imperative that the club hold on to Antti Niemi and Michael Svensson.

The sale of either of those two could spell major problems.

In terms of buying players, Paul Sturrock has ideas of who he wants and let's hope he gets them.

The team he has at the moment is Gordon Strachan's - the fans have got to give the new man time to make the team Paul Sturrock's.

He needs to get them playing how he wants and he will no doubt need a few new players to achieve that.

Only then will it be fair to judge his success.

From what we've seen so far, Sturrock seems like a shrewd appointment but only time will tell.

If we put this year down to a season of consolidation, to a season where we look to the future given last year's boss has gone and next year's has just come in, then progress is demanded to be seen for this time next year.

As for the final game of the season, well it went with something of a whimper.

Charlton, another one of those sides who could go either way from year to year, ended up seventh thanks to this win.

But it was still a traditional end of season match, which had most spectators looking forward to the final whistle inside the first half hour.

Hot on the heels of his fine debut display against Newcastle, Saints' third-choice keeper Alan Blayney had to turn wide Paul Koncheksy's curling free kick on 29 minutes.

By this stage, Saints' injury-ravaged squad had been depleted still further when Anders Svensson limped off.

Blayney again had to be alert to keep out Jason Euell before the Charlton striker gave his side the lead.

Shaun Bartlett out-jumped Yoann Folly and the ball fell to Paolo di Canio, who produced a beautifully-deft pass for Euell to slot home.

Brett Ormerod almost got in on goal three minutes before half- time but looked hesitant due to his lack of games and Charlton keeper Dean Kiely stopped his advances.

Eight minutes into the second half, Carlton Cole slipped far too easily between Chris Baird and Paul Telfer to receive Matt Holland's cross-field pass and fire low across Blayney to make it 2-0.

Suddenly, Saints kicked into life, having been decidedly limp up until then, and Ormerod forced Kiely into a smart stop before David Prutton powered home his first goal for the club.

Prutton was only denied a second by the outstretched leg of Kiely as Saints pushed forward in search of a result.

But the season ended in defeat and plenty to ponder over the summer.