Palace bewitched by Le Tissier

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Southampton 3

Crystal Palace 1

Forget about their internal disputes and personal rancour, the Division of paramount concern to Crystal Palace last night was the First, a destination which looks even more likely now after this third successive defeat and one engineered by Matt Le Tissier at his most brilliant. It leaves them two points adrift of the safety margin and from here the going promises to get even harder.

A visit from West Ham followed by difficult journeys to Leeds and Newcastle is not a three-game finale to be desired by teams in form and at peace with themselves. Currently Palace are none of these. They had spirit and commitment to spare but having fallen two goals behind after 10 minutes it was not enough to prise them a valuable point.

Chris Armstrong has given a public airing to what he considers to be victimisation in criticisms from Alan Smith. The manager, for his part, fears that his row with the Palace chairman, Ron Noades, will end only one way and leave him looking for a new job.

Against so fractious a background, Palace did not need to be driven further apart immediately after the start at The Dell. Only 39 seconds had passed when Le Tissier hooked the ball across and even though Rhys Wilmot was unchallenged he made a complete hash of the catch, losing his balance and helping the ball over the line.

Southampton were quickly two up but even before then Le Tissier had wreaked more havoc, clipping the crossbar with a free-kick and, this a prized item, sending a header against the base of an upright. The ball was momentarily cleared but not the threat, the ensuing corner emphasising Wilmot's failings as Le Tissier floated a teaser and Gordon Watson turned it home.

"The difference was Matthew Le Tissier, it's as simple as that," Smith said. "He has scored 28 this season, our leading scorer has five and our next best has four. I look at that quality and then I listen to the claptrap some of our lads come out with. This is not a talking game. The facts don't lie."

Soon similar defensive shortcomings were to be exposed in the other penalty area. When Gareth Southgate glanced home Armstrong's cross in the 27th minute, Palace began to believe again. But four minutes from time Le Tissier conjured up his party piece, drifting languidly inside to place his shot unerringly inside the far post.

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Le Tissier, Magilton, Maddison, Charlton (Widdrington, 65); Watson, Shipperley (Tisdale, 83). Substitute not used: Grobbelaar (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Wilmot; Humphrey (Dyer, 75), Shaw, Young, Gordon; Houghton, Southgate, Pitcher, Salako; Armstrong, Dowie. Substitutes not used: Cox, Martyn (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tilehurst).