Saints performances in the last few weeks have done little to reflect this view but the final match against Newcastle turned out to be a great game, full of attacking play and incident.
Right form the opening whistle, both sides looked to get forward. Strachan has complained that visitors to St. Mary's come to defend & Saints struggle to break them. Not so Newcastle, and Saints were fortunate that their opponents were offside in the opening few minutes as Robert's cross had a queue of players waiting at the back post.
Saints got their first opportunity after eight minutes of attacking play from both sides, as Alan Shearer had to block a nicely worked Saints corner.
At the other end Neil Moss, making his second start of the season, saved to his right from Aaron Hughes after ten minutes. Moss was busy again shortly after, rushing out to collect ahead of Lua Lua.
Newcastle's attacking style from midfield was beginning to dominate the proceedings with Anders Svensson reduced to an ambitious effort form 35 yards.
However, the Swedish international was a lot more accurate after 15 minutes. Marians Pahars made a lovely run down the left, cutting inside to put the ball across the goal for Svensson to put the ball into the net for the opening goal.
Saints 1-0 Newcastle
Saints almost extended their lead immediately afterwards. More good work down the left, this time form Wayne Bridge showing the attacking side of his game which makes him an important part of the England team. Bridge took on his defender, and his ball into the box reached Brett Ormerod who headed over the bar.
With Newcastle committing men upfield to support their attacks, they were susceptible to quick counter attacks from the Saints who were winning more than their fair share of challenges in midfield.
Saints were able to settle comfortably into this game by virtue of the space the Newcastle side left them in. Delap and Ormerod almost created chances before good work from Dodd and Beattie down the right, after 24 minutes, set Ormerod free. He went to round Given in the Newcastle box and was brought down. Saints were awarded a penalty. James Beattie stepped up and doubled Southampton's lead.
Saints 2-0 Newcastle
Saints continued to look bright and pacey, taking advantage of a Newcastle side who by now were aware that they had got their game plan wrong but seemed unsure of how to rectify the situation. In the end they continued with the same approach which forced Given to save form Beattie after 26 minutes.
Although Newcastle looked dangerous throughout the first half, they failed to create clear cut chances although Dyer managed to get in behind the defence and Moss had to save, albeit comfortably, from Lua Lua late on.
Half Time Saints 2-0 Newcastle
The second half started well for Newcastle with Neil Moss having a busy time including having to smother the ball from Robert. A save shortly after this from Bernard's shot could only be parried to Shearer, who fortunately for Saints was offside.
An identical save form Moss finally rewarded Newcastle for their pressure. This time Robert's shot was parried into Shearer's pass and Saints had a real game on their hands.
Saints 2-1 Newcastle
Things went form bad to worse for Saints as Tahar El-Khalej scythed down Dyer as the midfielder went past the Moroccan international. After a brief word with his assistant, El-Khalej was sent off as Dyer had to be stretchered form the park.
As Jenas came on to replace the injured Dyer, Saints were forced to reshuffle. Garry Monk came on to give Saints four at the back at the expense of the impressive Pahars and Tessem came on for the improving Brett Ormerod.
Now unable to continue with their first half tactics it was all Saints could do to hang on to their lead.
Moss had to save form Robert and Lua Lua before Saints made their final substitution. Many fans had been hoping to see a final few minutes from Saints legend Matthew Le Tissier before his retirement. However, the importance of the game financially as well as the circumstances imposed by El-Khalej's dismissal meant that it was not to be. Instead Fabrice Fernandes came on for Anders Svensson who was carrying a knock. There's always Matt's testimonial to look forward to next week.
With Newcastle camped in the Saints half there only looked to be one team in it. After Saints failed to clear the penalty area Bernard shot just wide. Saints were saved by some good, last ditch defending from the likes of Bridge and Lundekvam. Had it not been so tense, it would have been quite nostalgic to watch a desperate Saints clear their lines. Francis Benali was nowhere in sight and it shows you how far the side have come when they have eleven men on the park.
A late Saints freekick relieved the pressure , but only briefly as Bernard unleashed a shot which he watched go well wide. Dabizas had a great chance to equalise but the ball seemed to ricochet off his shin and wide. A header moments later, again form Dabizas, was taken comfortably by Moss.
As the game moved into injury time, Saints remarkably took the game beyond Newcastle. Beattie won a freekick into injury time. Telfer made the most of the situation by hitting a 30 yard shot past the out of position Given to seal Saints victory.
It was a fantastic end to a remarkable season of ups and downs.
Final Score: Saints 3-1 NewcastleFinally, something happy to discuss on the messageboard.