SAINTS look like they will need to win through the playoffs if they are to achieve their aims this season. 

A last-gasp 3-2 defeat at Ipswich Town means 12 points separate Russell Martin's side from the Championship's top two.

Saints maintain two games in hand but even wins in both of those will leave them with plenty of work to do.

Here is what we think are the biggest talking points this week... 

What was worse - benching the best player or not even bringing him on? 

Daily Echo: Pictured: Kyle Walker-PetersPictured: Kyle Walker-Peters (Image: Stuart Martin)

Kyle Walker-Peters sat out of Monday's defeat completely, having not missed a minute of the season when had been available.

The 26 year old was injured for the chaotic wins over Birmingham and Sunderland but returned for Middlesbrough after the break.

Walker-Peters was responsible for losing his man in the box and the late leveller that followed, as Saints dropped two points. 

Martin, at Portman Road, explained his decision to drop Walker-Peters, referencing that mistake, and suggesting nobody is guaranteed a start. 

It is not what many would have done, but given James Bree played well against Middlesbrough you can perhaps understand the XI. 

To not even bring him on, in a game where Martin only used four subs albeit in three windows, was inviting speculation. 

It is a surprise that Walker-Peters is still here this season in the first place - given the two-cap England man's Premier League quality.

Has something gone on? We will probably never find out, but Bree's red card means he should start again at Blackburn. 

The timing of the Wilcox story was... not ideal.

Daily Echo: Pictured: Phil Parsons and Jason WilcoxPictured: Phil Parsons and Jason Wilcox (Image: Stuart Martin)

Minutes before the most important game of the season, what does everyone need?

Sorry if your answer was not the director of football being the centre of a publicly developing transfer saga.

Manchester United made an approach for Jason Wilcox's services but their compensation fee was rejected by Saints.

Saints would have been open to negotiating a higher fee in order for the former Man City man to begin working immediately. 

It looks as though he has resigned to begin his 12-month notice, although we await official confirmation of that. 

It is another unneeded reminder that there is a pecking order for the clubs in England and the top six will always rule the roost. 

The timing of the story breaking is also questionable and open to interpretation regarding malicious intent. 

What is certain is that it was and is not ideal for Saints, who had hoped for a long-term project under Wilcox's direction.

He hired Martin himself, the head of recruitment, the academy director and a number of coaches through the system. 

A similar alignment will be key for the next appointment to avoid a similar mistake as last season. 

Martin has been unable to fix the defence but Stephens does not deserve criticism.

Daily Echo: Pictured: Jack StephensPictured: Jack Stephens (Image: PA)

Saints have conceded 19 goals in their last nine Championship matches and it will ultimately be the reason they do not hit the top two. 

By contrast, Martin's side only shipped eight goals in the 16 previous games, providing a platform to break into second for the first time. 

The mixing up of a solid defensive four has come alongside the return of club captain Stephens, who Martin has been desperate to play. 

Would Saints have been better off, where possible, playing the same back four as got them to 22 games unbeaten? 

You can certainly make the argument. Equally, Ryan Manning was already getting the heat that Stephens is now getting.

On an individual basis, Stephens has performed well. He has been defensively solid and provided something different to the team. 

His shuffle into midfield in possession is, we believe, a plan to resist the suicide press exhibited by Hull City and Bristol City. 

Stephens, although he may not be part of the best four in their natural positions, is not personally responsible for the recent troubles. 

Aribo staked his claim, even if he is not a 90-minute man.

Daily Echo: Pictured: Joe AriboPictured: Joe Aribo (Image: PA)

Midfielder Joe Aribo proved to Martin that he should be starting in the midfield three with a strong start at Portman Road on Monday.  

The Ipswich fixture was only his second start since January 1, due to going away to the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria. 

Former Rangers man Aribo, who endured a difficult first season at St Mary's, had just about made himself the first choice by the end of 2023. 

He started the move and provided the crucial pass into the box for Che Adams to score to score a much-needed instant equaliser. 

Aribo's performance at Ipswich did the closer he got towards his substitution in the 82nd minute, but he is not needed for 90 minutes.

Similarly to Stuart Armstrong, who threaded the divine ball to Adam Armstrong for the second, there is a natural replacement. 

Neither Aribo nor Armstrong can be depended on for 90 minutes every game but Will Smallbone and Joe Rothwell offer them reliable respite. 

Martin is trying to create a siege mentality - will it work? 

Daily Echo: Pictured: Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Will SmallbonePictured: Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Will Smallbone (Image: PA)

Ahead of the visit from Middlesbrough last weekend, Martin made one particularly interesting comment. 

"The beautiful thing for us is that everyone has written us off, we have averaged two points a game and been written off," he said.

Speaking after the defeat at Ipswich, which meant Saints took one point from six available, he refused to admit the hunt was over. 

Stephens, in an interview with the Daily Echo at Portman Road, then claimed: "Everyone had written us off before this anyway." 

The post-match player interviews, albeit not exclusively, tend to mirror what the manager has said in the dressing room. 

Often, we will hear the buzz lines from the player first before Martin says the same thing minutes later in the press conference. 

Martin and the staff are trying to create a rebound from the doubt that has crept in outside the club. 

Whether Saints can get into the top two or not, they will need aggression, bite and togetherness if they want to be the third team to go up.