Football: Palmer picks up the pieces down at Dell

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The Independent Online
Carlton Palmer's star is an the ascendant again, as his resolute performance for Southampton against Chelsea demonstrated.

Phil Coles finds the Saints midfielder in the midst of a resurrection at The Dell.

Carlton Palmer and his Southampton team-mates had been billed as the support act on Monday night when Chelsea were meant to put their championship claims on centre stage. Instead, as the much-criticised former England midfielder ran his legs off, and Chelsea found themselves going nowhere far too often.

Badly missing the suspended Dennis Wise, even the frontline pairing of Mark Hughes and Gianfranco Zola failed to spark Ruud Gullit's side into a positive response to Kevin Davies' early strike.

Gullit, his famed sang-froid for once missing, said his players had been "suicidal" and "stupid", adding that, like a dog, they had to go home and lick their wounds.

Even with five months of the Premiership campaign to go, those title wounds might now be telling, with Chelsea having dropped seven points - the margin by which they trail Manchester United - in their last four matches.

Palmer added his view as he suggested Gullit's team had not shown the real drive that makes champions. "Chelsea are a super team and if you don't deny them space they'll pass the ball around and murder you," he said. "I wouldn't say we had more commitment, because they worked hard all game and did knock it around.

"So I'm not saying they didn't fight. That would be a lie. They passed it well and perhaps didn't have the luck. But I think we wanted the points more than they did on Monday. That's what it boils down to. That made the difference."

That is a fatal flaw in any side wanting to wrest the title away from Old Trafford, with Southampton now having joined Coventry and Bolton in beating Chelsea. Palmer, however, believes the sheer hard work he and his team-mates put in is something others can repeat, and not only at the expense of Chelsea.

"It's not just Chelsea that you have to do it to," he said. "You've got to do exactly the same against United, Liverpool and Arsenal. You have to close them down, especially somebody like Zola. But you have to do that with Steve McManaman, David Beckham and Paul Scholes as well.

"When you're up against players like that you can't let them run. You have to earmark them for special treatment. Zola's one of them."

Palmer's commitment in midfield against Chelsea was exemplary, and the Southampton manager, David Jones, said the player's troubles at Leeds have allowed him to buy a cut-price saviour.

"Carlton's been brilliant since he came to the club," Jones said. "The lad is a winner; he leads by example, and you can't say any more of him. I know that I only got him at the price I did [pounds 1m] because of the problems at Leeds. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford to pick him up. I'm just grateful Ron Atkinson didn't get the Wednesday job six weeks earlier!"

Palmer himself is also grateful, to Jones for resurrecting a career that was fading under George Graham at Elland Road. "It's a great set-up here," he said. "Everybody knows we're not going to win the League. But we're capable of being better than the bottom three."

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