WHEN a game such as this is billed as a must win', it was never going to pass without nerves and tension along the way.

And that was understandably evident in the stands and on the pitch right up until the first win of Nigel Pearson's reign was confirmed.

There were pre-match calls to rekindle the Dell Spirit with a version of "Oh When The Saints" so powerful it would turn Leicester legs to jelly.

But while the ever-reliable Northam Stand did their best to start renditions of the club's anthem at kick-off, it seemed the nerves and tension had initially strangled the vocal chords of much of the rest of the ground.

In fairness, any attempts to generate an intimidating atmosphere were not helped by the lack of numbers inside St Mary's - just 17,741, a new record low - beating' the 17,806 who turned out for the Plymouth game three weeks ago. And also in fairness, other than a few if', but' and maybe' moments on the edge of the Leicester penalty box there was little to excite the home fans in the first period.

Watching the animated Pearson going through the full range of emotions in his technical area, though, clearly did.

At one stage he threw a drinks bottle to the turf in frustration, a display of his passion which drew a rare first half ripple of applause from the home fans.

Slightly more followed - in encouragement probably mixed with relief at not trailing at the break in such a crucial game - as the players departed for half-time.

Despite little to encourage them, Saints supporters - led by those in the Northam - stuck to their duty and with the team into the second half.

Though as it went on, it was clear their patience was being tested as, for a period, misplaced pass followed misplaced pass.

And as both sets of fans began to contemplate whether the next error would have fatal consequences, not just for this game but maybe the season, that only served to heighten the nervous atmosphere.

That was to be a concern left for Leicester's fans, though, when on 75 minutes Stern John pounced on Gareth McAuley's mistake to lift a clever first-time volley into the net.

Off came the roof - a mixture of relief and joy exploded into the night air from the home fans.

Suddenly St Mary's had found its voice.

Cries of We Love Southampton We Do', Come On You Reds' and Oh When The Saints' swept around the ground as the whole crowd started to go through their repertoire.

Every tackle, block and clearance was cheered.

And the players fed off the increased volume noticeably snapping into tackles with increased bite as the clock ticked towards time.

There were still a few heart in the mouth and hands over eyes moments - and four minutes of where did that come from?' injury time - to endure as Leicester chased an equaliser.

But referee Danny McDermid eased all the nerves and tension when he put his whistle to his mouth for the final time allowing Pearson, his players and the St Mary's faithful to celebrate a first win in 11 games.

A day that started with fresh talk of potential investment had ended with a victory, which many fans left the ground hoping would be one that can be a springboard for rest of the season.

So for Saints and the fans, yesterday brought a double dose of hope.