On the Cross verdict – Saints 4 MK Dons 3

Last updated : 09 January 2006 By Chris C

The big talking point before kick-off was the absence of Antti Niemi from the squad, with his move to Fulham now confirmed. This meant that Paul Smith is finally first choice after waiting so long in Niemi’s shadow. His performance showed he still has some way to go to fill the Finn’s boots as he might have done better with two of the goals. However, it is still early days and he has showed with his performances in the Premiership that he has the potential.

Injuries again dictated much of the line-up, but George Burley is starting to show his preferred line-up and players. Baird made a fifth consecutive start at right back and Belmadi was again the starting line-up after his eye-catching display against Brighton.

Claus Lundekvam made a welcome return from injury, but was understandably rusty turning in a performance more reminiscent of last season’s calamities rather than his season’s assurance. He is a far better player alongside an aggressive partner and expect him to return to his best against QPR alongside the returning Powell.

Kenton was his usual combination of effort, pace and indecision, but proved the hero with a first ever goal from Saints, resulting in a player pile up on the touchline. Perhaps with his pace and (very) recent form in front of goal, he would be better served up front!

Theo Walcott was introduced as a substitute for the ever willing Nathan Dyer and turned in arguably his best performance in a Saint shirt. George Burley has used his special talent wisely, limiting his appearances to get the best out of him.

He certainly did that as Walcott ran the poor MK Dons defence ragged, setting up Nigel Quashie with his first touch, scoring himself shortly afterwards and setting up the winner. He even found time to miss two one on ones. Not bad for 30 minutes work!

Prutton made a welcome return to the scoresheet, making the most of his celebrations by diving into the Northam, receiving a booking for his trouble. Although both he and Quashie scored, the real concern was how they failed to dominate a game but average MD Dons midfield. No doubt Burley will be looking to address this during another full week’s training.

Baird, Kenton, Lundekvam, Cranie
Dyer (Walcott, 57), Quashie, Prutton, Belmadi (Folly, 77)
Blackstock, Ormerod (Fuller, 57)
Subs: Bialkowski, Mills

On the Cross verdict

For all of the defensive shambles, let’s just enjoy the result after another exciting day in the FA Cup. From a side that has found numerous ways to snatch draws out of the jaws of victory, while we still seem incapable of hanging onto a lead, we at least are rediscovering the knack of scoring late goals.

It took 60 minutes to get us going, but thereafter Saints were irresistible going forward and could have scored many more. All credit should go to MK Dons for the character they showed to come back into the game on two separate occasions. They put their league troubles aside to play their part in a wonderful cup tie.

There are of course real concerns about how we managed to let another lead slip. Our confidence is still brittle after surrendering so many leads in the past 12 months and it will take the return to fitness of key personnel and a few more wins to get the confidence back. Now we are scoring goals again, we need to return to the form at the back that gave us one of the meanest defences in the league.

For all the talk of a supposed boycott, the crowd of 15,908 was decent enough given the opposition with few signs of a protest at the game. Perhaps this thriller will encourage more of the fans to return as well as creating new fans thanks to the £1 entry for kids.

Now it is onwards and upwards to QPR and Burley goes in search of his first away win, looking to preserve his 100% record in 2006. With the return of several players from injury, this should prove a better test of Saints renaissance.

Man of the match: What a 30 minutes from Theo Walcott, as Burley let him off the leash to devastating effect. Great to see the youngster back to his best and could have had a hat-trick.

Cameo of the day: A perfectly timed first ever goal for Saints by Darren Kenton sent the players and fans alike into a frenzy.

Lemon of the day: After coming on to change the game against Brighton, Brett Ormerod failed to make the most of his chance despite his usual endeavour. Desperately needs a goal.