GORDON STRACHAN has conceded Saints are failing to produce enough fresh first-team talent.

In a frank admission, the Saints boss said that aside from Wayne Bridge the club had produced precious few players good enough to cut it in the Premiership.

But chairman Rupert Lowe immediately laid the blame for the lack of young talent at the door of former manager Graeme Souness, who he said had placed an emphasis on buying players.

Strachan said: "The youth coming through is not great. The academy was put to sleep a few years ago.

"We have some good kids, but there is a big gap. We've two or three good younger players, but there is a big gap after Wayne Bridge and then it will get better.

"The kids are not ready yet and you can make a mistake shoving them in too early. With the 17 to 21-year-olds we have a right problem."

Pointing to the success of Manchester Utd in the 1990s, Strachan added: "It is a very important part of the club. Alex Ferguson has shown what you can do with kids - I certainly played for him."

Lowe stressed the club were now investing heavily in young players, but said they had paid the price for current Blackburn boss Souness, who only managed Saints for one season in 1996-7.

He said: "Graeme Souness bought a whole team. His philosophy was to buy players and not go for youth and I would lay the blame at his door.

"It will take a bit of time, but we have a whole chain going now. We have a large catchment area and it's certainly important to have a mechanism for producing your own players - that's why we have invested in the youth academy."

Souness is understood to disagree with this assessment, but has said he does not want to comment in the run-up to his return to Southampton on Saturday when Saints face Blackburn at St Mary's.

Wherever the blame lies, the situation at Saints now is in stark contrast to the 70s, 80s and 90s, when home-grown talent formed the backbone of the team.

The likes of Terry Paine, Mick Chan-non, Matthew Le Tissier, Rod Wallace were all produced by Saints, while the squad that finished second in the championship in 1984 contained eight players who'd progressed from the youth team.

The situation does look likely to improve, but not for a few seasons.

Stuart Anderson played for Scotland under-17s in the recent UEFA tournament, while defender Steve Minnett has played for Wales under-16s.

Right-back Chris Baird also looks a good long term prospect after recently being called up for the full Northern Ireland squad.

His compatriot Alan Blayney is also a regular for the national under-21 team.

Andrew Surman, Simon Gillett, Brian Howard, Arron Davies, Jamie Gleeson, Chris MacDonald, Andrew Robertson, Andrey Pereplyotkin and Jay Lucas are just some of the players to have impressed for what has been a youthful reserve team this season.

The Premier League also recently applauded the strides Saints are making in improving the academy, saying: "After four years of academy operation Southampton has finally turned the corner in their attempts to put in place a satisfactory operation.

"In the forthcoming season the scholars and students will see the improvements made and will benefit accordingly."