Graham Hiley reports from The Dell on Saturday's goal-less wrangle with Charlton...

IT might not have felt like it at the final whistle, but this was at least progress of a sort.

Earlier in the season Saints would probably have lost this game, getting caught on the break overstretching for the winner.

When they went down at home to Manchester City and Coventry, the point was forcibly made that if it was not happening in front of goal they should at least stay tight to grind out a 0-0 draw and hope to nick a goal.

That is precisely what they did on Saturday - although on possession and chances they should still have won this one without ever really playing with their recent conviction.

But they did at least maintain their focus at the back even though Paul Jones was not too strongly tested as he kept a fifth successive clean sheet at The Dell, the first time Southampton have done that since 1983.

Without Jonatan Johannsen, Charlton had little punch in attack and were kept at bay with reasonable comfort.

It was going forward that Saints struggled to click as they were frustrated by the Addicks defence who proved just how far they themselves have progressed.

Glenn Hoddle's men are not the only ones to have learned the art of keeping it tight; suddenly it was clear just why Alan Curbishley is being touted as one of the brightest young coaching talents.

His side were well-drilled and unyielding at the back, adopting a similar approach to the one Saints themselves use effectively away from home.

Richard Rufus somehow got away with persistently climbing over opponents but, that apart, the Londoners were annoyingly hard to break down as they sat deep and determined.

Having said that, as the home side it was up to Saints to seize the initiative and make things happen - and for once that extra spark was missing.

Marian Pahars may have been a little out of sorts lately, but he was badly missed after failing a morning fitness test on a calf injury.

Without him, Saints lacked width and pace and urgency on the right. Hassan Kachloul ran hard enough but he is not a wide man.

Wayne Bridge, though, did provide powerful impetus down the left with another display of positive running to re-affirm his emergence as one of the bright young talents in the game.

The main attacking thrust came from James Beattie who demonstrated he is more than just a finisher.

He did not add to his goal tally, but was the focal point for every threat.

Beattie could be found dragging defenders out of position and unsettling them with his physical presence, aerial power and his enthusiasm, and willingness to chase everything.

He also worked ferociously, getting back to defend and he repeatedly ran out wide to get in some dangerous crosses.

The problem was that he also needed to be on the end of them!

There was no-one breaking from deep to really unsettle the visitors and Southampton rarely got anyone in round the back of the defence which was able to meet and clear everything head on.

Hoddle's men passed their way forward crisply enough on a pitch with a bit of zip in it. But it repeatedly foundered in the final third where they ran into too many bling alleys.

In a bid to find that vital width and impetus, Hoddle gave a debut late on to new signing Dan Petrescu whose inclusion on the bench provided the option of switching to three at the back.

He had a great chance to win it four minutes from time but fired over from 16 yards on one of the rare occasions Southampton found space in the box.

Most of their efforts were from distance with Matthew Oakley drawing a pair of tremendous saves from quality keeper Dean Kiely.

Such was the ferocity of Oakley's 30-yard blast that few in the ground realised that Kiely had got the slightest of touches to tip the ball onto the bar.

The Charlton keeper followed that by getting down well to his left hand post to keep out another well-struck drive.

Davies was a foot wide from 25 yards in the first half, Beattie had a low 25-yard free-kick cleared off the line by Graham Stuart, although the keeper may have got it.

And even Dean Richards tried from distance with a 16 yard header which just past the angle of the post and bar.

Saints did occasionally find space in front of goal. Kachloul should have hit the target with a free header and Richards nodded over from a corner.

But the best chance fell to Beattie who bundled his way in on goal but was denied by the outstreched boot of the keeper.

It was one of those days when the breaks just would not come but when that happens, the important thing is to keep a grip and not lose.