Do Saints have the quality to stay up?

Last updated : 26 March 2008 By Chris C
While those around us continue to gain points, Saints have been unable to break away from the relegation places. True, we have only lost the one game, in the 5-0 drubbing away to Hull, but we have been largely playing those around us of late and much tougher tests await than out of form Leicester and Coventry.

Nigel Pearson has undoubtedly made us tougher to beat, sacrificing the flair of Surman, Hammill and Saganowski for the more industrious play of Licka, Viafara and the bulk of Pericard, effectively moving us closer to a classic Championship style of play.

The real concern is that the free flowing football from earlier in the season - yes, we really did outplay West Brom - has all but disappeared, leaving goals harder to come by in front of a still fragile defence missing its talisman, Andrew Davies.

So, let's take a look through the squad to see if we really do have the quality to compete with those well above us in the table.


Andrew Davies is a huge miss and is largely responsible for the upturn in fortunes in our defence. With Pearce injured and likely to head back to Fulham, we are left with Powell and Thomas, classic Championship defenders, big strong, but vulnerable to quality pace and movement as Hull showed.

On the flanks Jermaine Wright is at best reliable, but offers little going forward to open up a defence. Vignal on song, like Bale before him, is a valuable attacking option with the ability to get behind defences and deliver quality balls into the box. He simply has to remain in form to give Saints variety in attack.

In goal Richard Wright's performance was hugely encouraging, showing the difference when you get players with Premiership pedigrees on loan.

Verdict: Saints still look vulnerable in the centre of defence and Richard Wright and Vignal will have to be at their best to add quality to our defence. Another central defender on loan could prove the difference between staying up and going down.


Saints have chopped and changed in midfield all season with players dipping in and out of form. Safri has been the one model of consistency in front of the back four, but is not the kind of player to win games on his own.

The second central midfield berth has been a problem all season with a catalogue of players failing to make the position their own. Surman has the ability to find the killer pass, but still lacks the power and pace to dominate in central midfield. Viafara has the power and pace, but not the passing ability.

Jason Euell does boast a decent Premiership pedigree and is finally showing some signs of form, but needs to start finding the net on a regular basis with Saints struggling for goals from midfield.

The real concern is the lack of width and quality on the flanks, with Surman, Dyer and Hammill, either out of action or favour. Pearson seems to favour the Burley approach of playing four central midfielders, but needs to find a place for one of the attacking trio to help Saints create more chances. Letting Skacel go could prove a massive mistake, as we could do with his magic left foot creating chances.

Verdict: On paper there should be enough midfield quality in our squad, but Saints have looked unbalanced in midfield for weeks. Much rests on the shoulders of Euell to be the missing link between midfield and attack and he needs to find his best form fast and get support from one of our young wingers. Could be too little, too late.


It's worth remembering that Saints started the season with arguably the best strike force in the league. Kenwyne Jones, Gregorz Rasiak, Marek Saganowski and at a push Bradley Wright-Phillips offered a blend of proven goalscoring ability, pace, power and poaching.

Unfortunately, two have gone and Saganowski is a shadow of his former self. How thankful we must be that Stern John has scored a remarkable number of goals and has shown an uncanny ability to get on the end of chances.

However, he can't be expected to do it all on his own and desperately needs a decent strike partner, ideally a Premiership player to prove the difference. Pericard may have been that on paper, but it's a big ask for him to turn his recent career around.

Verdict: If Stern John got injured, Saints would be in real trouble with so little goalscoring support from his teammates. Letting Rasiak go may have made financial sense in the short term, but it could prove the move that sent us down.

Overall verdict

Worryingly Saints look short of quality in all three areas of the pitch, after three years of dilution of the squad in the Championship.

Pearson has improved the effort levels noticably, but still needs to find the best way to make the most of the quality available to him by getting his most talented players on the pitch and performing.

It may well come down to a couple of moments of magic to keep us up - how we could do with a Matt Le Tissier to provide it... As it is we look reliant on the form of those around us and have to hope that Leicester, Coventry and Sheffield Weds keep dropping points. It's going to go down to the wire.