SAINTS may not have taken any points at Reading last night - but they could at least take some heart.

In a team that has been changed so many times this season, three more debutants were introduced by George Burley ... taking the total number of players used by Saints this campaign to a staggering 39.

And, while Reading's seemingly unstoppable march to the Championship title might have continued, Saints could take some positives from their sixth successive away league defeat.

They matched the runaway leaders, who have scored more goals and conceded fewer than any other Football League side this season, them for large portions of the match.

Sadly, the difference between the two teams was the two defensive mistakes Saints made were converted into goals. The chances Saints made were not.

In particular, Richard Chaplow in the centre of the Saints midfield injected much needed drive, attacking guile and a goal threat.

His debut certainly promised much more to come.

Polish striker Grzegorz Rasiak looks a decent player, but one who hasn't scored a league goal all season and who needs to get himself on a run - as he did under Burley with Derby last season.

His partnership with Peter Madsen at least showed a few signs of life, even though Saints have now taken just five points out of a possible 30 under Burley.

Jermaine Wright looked short of match fitness, having played just three reserve games since the start of December, but he clearly knows what he's doing.

Right-back Alexander Ostlund had a good game too. He gets forward and defends well.

But, with a new team still bedding down, coming to the Madejski Stadium against Reading in the form they are in - 14 home league wins out of 15 and eight in a row - was always going to be a hard task.

And it was a step too far for Burley's revamped side.

You can argue all you like over the whys and wherefores of how Saints have got into a situation where they have gone from an established Premiership club to looking so far up at Reading it hurts the neck.

But they have got there and, in terms of the team, the most constructive thing to do is look at the performances on the field.

Once this side settles down we will start to be able to judge Burley a little more. Most of these are his players, albeit many of them are here in the short term than the long haul at the moment.

His aim is to get his team into a position whereby they can be like Reading next season.

Reading knocked the ball around with such confidence, and there was an air of invincibility - not just in the team, but around the ground.

That's what Saints must attempt to achieve.

And when you look at the Reading team, where are the stars? Where are the big names? There aren't any. None of the 14 players they used last night have ever played a single minute in the Premiership.

They are just a good team, a great unit. They believe they will win every game, and almost have done.

The big test for Saints comes next Wednesday when they host Preston.

While they can take some heart from their display at Reading, Saints had no pressure on them.

They were the underdogs and expected to get beaten.

In those conditions a heartening performance is acceptable.

Against Preston the pressure will be on. They will be expected to win - though Preston have gone 22 league games unbeaten - and then we may have a true reflection of how instant an impact Burley's signings will have.

The first half last night was quite an exciting affair which could have gone either way.

Reading opened the scoring after a mistake from Nathan Dyer allowed Glen Little to cross from the by-line and Leroy Lita tapped in on 15 minutes.

But far from buckling, Saints rallied. Rasiak should have scored after he worked himself some space but dragged his shot wide from six yards.

Ostlund came close shortly afterwards, heading Darren Potter's cross against the bar.

But then another defensive lapse and it was 2-0.

The multi-ball system played a part.

Saints had been given offside, a quick thinking ball boy threw the ball on and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann pumped it up field.

The Saints defence weren't alert, Kevin Doyle picked up the ball, cut back and drilled home from the edge of the area.

The rest of the game was something of a damp squib with no other chances to speak of.

But at least Saints had pride, if no points, to take from this match.