Wigley's time hits Lowe point

Southampton 2 Crystal Palace 2
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There wasn't a battery of po-faced men with sandwich-boards proclaiming "the end is nigh", there wasn't the rat-a-tat of gallows being constructed outside St Mary's Stadium and, clearly, the vultures had chosen a different flight-path. But the omens could not have been clearer for Southampton head coach Steve Wigley.

There wasn't a battery of po-faced men with sandwich-boards proclaiming "the end is nigh", there wasn't the rat-a-tat of gallows being constructed outside St Mary's Stadium and, clearly, the vultures had chosen a different flight-path. But the omens could not have been clearer for Southampton head coach Steve Wigley.

His time, it seems, is up. This fortuitous draw is surely not enough. It means that Wigley missed by three points the nine-point target he and the chairman, Rupert Lowe, agreed he had to achieve from the past five matches to save his job.

In that time Southampton have played the three promoted teams, gained just two points from them and are now, crucially, in the bottom three. Glenn Hoddle is primed to take over, although Lowe may delay his second coming until after next Saturday's away match against Manchester United. Not the best of starts for yet another new regime.

It was also, surely, a cruel little joke to parade former Southampton player - and more pertinently - out-of-work manager Micky Adams at half-time. "I'm looking to get back into the game," Adams said to a roar from the crowd. Indeed their mood was indicative. Boos, chants of "sack the board" and "you don't know what you're doing" - when Wigley made his substitutions - were clear. To be fair, Wigley was proved right. It was one of the replacements, the maligned Peter Crouch, who flicked the ball on for Andreas Jakobsson to stab in Southampton's second equalising goal.

"I think we had enough time to go on and win the game," Wigley said when he finally emerged an hour after the end. "But people got nervous again and we did not push on." With one win in 13 he has induced the nerves and his sideline frustration was obvious. At the final whistle his hands were on his head but, when questioned, Wigley claimed he had "not given" his position a thought. "I don't know really," he replied when asked if he expected to stay. The fans' criticism? "That just goes with the job." Problems? "I feel that I'm just coping at the minute," he said, although he rightly pointed to a crippling injury list.

There was moral support. Gordon Strachan wandered down the tunnel. "He told me he was coming," said Wigley, but that knowledge may simply remind Southampton of the one that got away. Palace's Iain Dowie - a former Saints player - was unequivocal in saying of Wigley: "The lads certainly played for him today." But he was also right in saying they still should have lost. "Their predicament is their predicament," Dowie said. "If you ask me 'Should we have won the game', then yes, we should."

Indeed so. Palace have acclimatised quickly to the Premiership and Dowie is one of football's most agile learners. After three defeats, they never looked like losing here. Andy Johnson was at his most predatory and Dowie has a midfield that passes and moves precisely. The football came from the visitors and that will not have pleased Lowe either.

He knows that the best Southampton can hope for this season is to avoid relegation. Palace's visit was a reminder of a time when such battles were customary. It's seven years since the sides met, and since then Lowe has employed six managers. In his programme notes he said he had "forgotten how it feels" to be down among the desperate and declared this was a fixture that the Saints should "aspire to win".

In a scuffling first-half, Southampton were reduced to pot-shots from Kevin Phillips, although they should have taken the lead when the ball was fed to Fabrice Fernandes on a counter-attack. Instead of squaring to Phillips, who had a run on goal, he went on himself only to blaze over from an acute angle.

For Palace, Fitz Hall - another former Saints player - provoked a brave punch by Kasey Keller from a header. Indeed, as Dowie stated, if it was not for Keller Palace would have run away with the game inside the first 10 minutes of the second half. Three times Johnson embarrassed his marker Darren Kenton. Firstly, he outpaced Kenton inside the area only for Keller to block, then he skipped down the left and away from the defender again. Johnson cut inside but the goalkeeper saved. Finally, the striker stole a yard to meet Aki Riihilahti's cross and flick his header into the net.

Southampton replied immediately. Fernandes turned inside and curled a left-footed cross that skimmed over Tony Popovic's head. Phillips ghosted in, with Hall frozen, and poked the ball in the net. Dowie claimed offside and said the assistant referee had stated the player wasn't "active". "Not active inside the six-yard area?" pondered Dowie. But Palace soon restored their lead. Wayne Routledge sprang from the right flank to shoot, only for his effort to take a heavy deflection off Jakobsson. Three goals inside six minutes, and Palace should have added another. Routledge sped past Graeme Le Saux and crossed only for Riihilahti to mistime his header.

Southampton accepted the reprieve. After Dexter Blackstock made a hash of a volley and Popovic diverted Fernandes's shot narrowly past a post, up popped Jakobsson. His fellow Swede Anders Svensson then tumbled in the area. Wigley said it was a penalty. Maybe. At the end, after Crouch chipped over, it was Palace pushing forward. They knew they should have won, while Wigley knows this was a match he needed to win.

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