Eagles and Saints share the spoils in feisty Selhurst clash
Crystal Palace 2 Southampton 2
Julian Taylor at Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace had to settle for a point in a tough encounter against Southampton at Selhurst Park.
Patrick Vieira’s side came back to draw in the wake of conceding two quality goals by Saints in the space of three first half minutes.
And although this was far from vintage by the south London club, on the balance of play a share of the goods was ultimately the fairest outcome. Palace couldn’t build upon Wilfried Zaha’s early clipped goal, while Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men deserve real credit for their willingness to recover and play with commitment and diligence. Goals by James Ward-Prowse and Armando Broja were eventually cancelled out by a good finish by Eagles’ winger Jordan Ayew.
The stalemate, nevertheless, does lift Palace into eleventh place in the Premier League, while Saints, with 17 points, keep a reasonable distance from the hazards of the relegation area. Referee Simon Hooper was, admittedly, a busy man in the second half, dispensing yellow cards galore: evidence of an intense clash, at the unfortunate expense of craftsmanship.
The Eagles, fresh from their stirring weekend victory at home to Everton, made just the one change for the meeting against the visitors from the south coast, with keeper Jack Butland coming in for Vicente Guaita.
Whatever Vieira had impressed upon his players in the moments before kick off clearly had an effect, with Palace taking the lead in only the second minute with what was a rare early goal. And Zaha was, once, again, ever the cool, composed executioner.
Industrious Will Hughes scavenged to pick up possession from Oriol Romeu in midfield before quickly funnelling the ball to Odsonne Edouard. Spying strike partner Zaha to his left, the passage continued, before the Palace idol took aim to despatch an angled shot past helpless Saints’ keeper Willy Caballero.
That typical Zaha-esque burst settled the Eagles, while Southampton, for their part, looked out of sorts in the early stages and barely troubled the hosts’ penalty area.
In the 22nd minute, Zaha opened up Saints on the left at pace but his low cross was turned inches past the post by Edouard; the former Celtic forward the essence of frustration at missing the chance to effortlessly double the lead. Yet Edouard did his bit in terms of tracking back and out muscling any potential attacks by Southampton, treating the home fans to a nifty back heel on one occasion.
Romeu struggled to keep pace - and the Saints’ enforcer reserved some particular rough treatment for impish Conor Gallagher. But the frustration by Hasenhuttl’s side soon evaporated by two quick fire efforts of high quality - and surprising in their efficiency.
In the 32nd minute, with Palace having conceded a free kick around 22 yards out – definitive Ward-Prowse territory - the Southampton skipper curled a classy strike out of Butland’s reach to level. Unexpected in the circumstances – but what a terrific imposition from Saints' set piece guru.
Indeed, just as the south Londoners were still absorbing the shock they were inexplicably caught cold only moments later, as the nature of the game changed dramatically.
Taking advantage of the momentary lapse in Eagles’ concentration, Broja sped off from midfield before firing in a precise, low, right foot shot past an agonised Butland into the corner of the net. Saints had militantly burst through the dam, and for the rest of the first half the normal noise of Selhurst Park suddenly evaporated.
Palace were keen enough following the restart, but Gallagher was finding little time to manoeuvre with intent on the ball, often with more than one Saint in close attendance. While the home fans continued to chant for him, the Eagles’ need to exercise patience was obvious, and Cheik Kouyate kept the engine running to an extent. With Ayew a peripheral figure, the hosts’ need to provide Zaha with service was paramount, but Southampton, deep in concentration at the back, were largely wise to the threat.
Veteran Caballero was being well protected – for a while at least - and Palace lacked incision: Gallagher’s assists all too easily dealt with by a focused Saints. From a side so vibrant in the opening spells, Vieira was observing a team losing both its’ speed and creative spark.
Kouyate was therefore sacrificed in the 63rd minute for Christian Benteke – but it was Ayew who eventually intervened a couple of minutes later to equalise. No-one really saw it coming, much like Southampton’s first goal.
Lurking with intent, Ayew squeezed in a shot from an acute angle after Caballero got a touch to an Odsonne Edouard close range effort amid a packed danger zone. Selhurst Park was rocking again, the portents back with Palace.
Both sides showed little respite towards each other, and the latter stages became increasingly tetchy in the search for a winner. Ayew went off to a standing ovation, replaced by Michael Olise.
Southampton still carried potential danger going forward on the counter attack and Ward-Prowse was superb in this respect. However, the Eagles hustled their opponents to hold on for the point – and both managers could have few complaints about the outcome.
Eagles: Butland, Ward, Mitchell, Tomkins (Andersen 82), Guehi, Kouyate (Benteke 64), Ayew (Olise 75), Zaha, Hughes, Edouard, Gallagher