Southampton vs Crystal Palace match report: Saido Mane gets Champions League bid back on track for Saints

Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 0

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The Independent Football

Julian Speroni in the Palace goal should have held on to a weak low shot from James Ward-Prowse, a fact he would have been reflecting on as Sadio Mané stole in, clipped the ball over his supine body and stole three points Crystal Palace will think they should have claimed last night.

It was an exciting enough match, with Southampton dominating possession but Crystal Palace created the better chances.

Graziano Pellè should have scored for the home team, but so should Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie for the visitors. Filip Djuricic’s perfect pirouette in the centre circle was worthy of a goal, and though it produced nothing that counted for anything, it should certainly be taken into consideration when deciding whether Southampton were worthy winners.

Five years ago, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew was sitting in the home dugout here at this fine new stadium, entertaining the likes of Walsall, Colchester and Southend United, shackled by a 10-point deduction for having gone into administration. That marked the low point of a parabola that brought in radical new ownership, and from which Southampton FC has ascended to a height their fans didn’t dare imagine.

But Ronald Koeman knows that losing 1-0 away to West Bromwich, as his team did at the weekend, and without creating enough chances to win the game, is not the way to react to the resurgent form unfolding all around them.

In the first half, Southampton certainly didn’t play like a side harbouring intentions of challenging Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United for a taste of Champion’s League football.

And all this from a side playing at home against Crystal Palace, a match that they surely had to win. For the entire first 45 minutes, the visitors played the more threatening football. Bolasie appeared dangerous almost every time he touched the ball, as he has done so all season. Crystal Palace fans have watched as his industry out wide has been squandered by others in front of goal, a reality that manager Alan Pardew has evidently tired of too.

After 25  minutes he moved Bolasie to the central striker position and put Dwight Gayle on the wing. Out wide, Gayle continued to underwhelm, but Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon were purposeful.

After the break it was much the same. Puncheon should have scored, but his snatched effort was met with a fine, reaction save from Fraser Forster. Five minutes later the goalkeeper was parrying a powerful Bolasie volley, and then turning towards goal with his heart in his throat to watch Zaha’s low shot come back off the post.

Yannick-Bolasie-of-Crystal-Palace-and-Maya-Yoshida-of-Southampton-compete-for-the-ball.jpg
Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace and Maya Yoshida of Southampton compete for the ball

 

As for Southampton, if they did allow themselves to dream in those extraordinary early months last summer when, after suffering the most brutalising of transfer ram-raids, they at least came out renewed and fighting.

Pellè is making scoring in the Premier League look rather difficult, where once it seemed so easy, and he was substituted with 20 minutes to go. Koeman had spoken about the lack of goals of late in his programme notes. They are no longer coming from the strikers, nor from the midfield, though the team are creating chances. 

 

Mané and Djuricic finally wrested control of the midfield for sustained periods, threading clever and incisive passes out wide and through the middle, but, worringly, precious few of the moves they started built towards even the threat of a finish.

Still, these are three points that keep them still just about in Champion’s League contention, gained from a performance uncertain enough to prompt some deep thinking in the 11 days off they now have before their next game – at Stamford Bridge.

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