Lee gives Town new belief

THE power of belief can never be underestimated. Coupled with an inner strength, that cannot be seen but has tangible results, it is a force capable of great change.

THE power of belief can never be underestimated. Coupled with an inner strength, that cannot be seen but has tangible results, it is a force capable of great change.

Throw in a bargain buy centre-forward that can finish, uses his head, elbows and shoulders as effectively as his feet and is deceptively quick, then maybe, just maybe, a team that looked set for mid-table obscurity at best can become genuine promotion contenders.

Okay, one swallow, or should that be ex-Bluebird, doesn't make a season, but Alan Lee's performance at St Mary's was such that even the most doubting of Thomases could not fail to believe that the resurgence is for real.

At £150,000 all in, Lee looks a shrewd buy by Joe Royle, who has long wanted someone who can hold the ball up, win headers, or at least ruffle defenders in an attempt to, finish chances and generally add weight and experience to what has been a limp front line this season.

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In Lee Town clearly have that and the Galway-born striker came within a fingertip of grabbing a hat-trick at St Mary's.

That would have topped what was an extraordinary display of forward play backed by a wonderful all-round team effort.

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The Blues, and Lee, were inspired by a fourth-minute goal, created by the vision and precision of Owen Garvan, who threaded a ball into the path of the striker. Lee still had plenty to do but held off a challenge from Darren Powell before driving in a right-foot shot past a helpless Paul Smith.

Any nerves disappeared in that moment and although the challenges got a little meaty Town withstood the bashing, and the abysmal refereeing, to get a grip of the game.

Gavin Williams was lost after two crunching, and illegal tackles, both of which escaped punishment. Referee Steve Tanner waved play on after Darren Kenton elbowed Williams and then had to stop the play due to a head injury on the former West Ham player and gave a drop ball.

Moments later Williams was scythed down by Djamel Belmadi and this time had to be replaced, with Matt Richards proving to be a more than worthy replacement.

It was not the only bizarre decision the official made. As Lee protested to the linesman, without profanity he swears, for a penalty when Darren Powell brought him down, the referee booked him. Even Saints skipper Nigel Quashie questioned the validity of that caution.

That booking was the only sour note for Lee, who will now miss the home game against Leeds United at the end of the month.

Town will also be without Jimmy Juan who picked up his fifth booking of the season for a cynical, but necessary tackle on Dexter Blackstock in a rare Saints break, worryingly stemming from a Town throw-in.

Fabian Wilnis cleared a Kenton effort off the line, Shane Supple showed good reflexes to grab a swerving shot by Rory Delap that changed direction at the last moment, while Richard Naylor made a terrific covering tackle on Marian Pahars as the Latvian international striker cut inside the penalty area.

Those moments of danger were rare as Town defended well, starting with Lee and Darren Currie up front.

The Blues midfield harried and hustled and got their own game going to good effect.

One moment in the second half epitomised that effort.

Garvan made an excellent tackle on Matt Oakley to nick the ball away. Richards skipped away from two more Saints players before slipping the ball into the channel for Lee to run on to. He played the ball back to Scott Barron, whose cross was returned by Currie, and Westlake was a stud's length away from finishing.

The rampaging Barron, who has been a revelation since breaking into the senior squad, set up Town's second with a sublime pass from his own half to Lee. The Irish hitman, who had looked dead on his feet minutes earlier, spun round Kenton and accelerated away before finishing with a superbly struck 14-yard strike.

The result was now in no doubt, it was just a case of how many.

Richards chipped a delightful ball over the defence from central midfield and Lee's diving header hit the legs of the 'keeper, who knew little about it.

Smith did do well to get his fingertips to another looping header from Lee,who met a Currie corner.

Central defenders Naylor and De Vos were once again solid at the back and lively in attack, with both going close with headers from corners.

Against a backdrop of protesting Saints fans Blues were superb.

The travelling Town support, some 2,000 in number, were excellent with non-stop vocal backing for the team, who repaid them with an afternoon of graft and guile that heralds a bright future.

The belief that has been lacking is returning with a vengeance and even though they will be without Lee for Leeds, Town have shown in recent weeks, during an unbeaten league run of four matches now, that they are difficult to beat and are more than capable of getting wins from tight games and continuing a run that could see them close the 10-point gap to the play-off places.

Fanciful, maybe - but you have to believe.

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