Shane Long ends goal drought before Southampton go under

Crystal Palace come back to claim win and continue fine run under Roy Hodgson

Shane Long opens the scoring for Southampton in the Premier League game against  Crystal Palace at St Mary’s. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Shane Long opens the scoring for Southampton in the Premier League game against Crystal Palace at St Mary’s. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 2

Luka Milivojevic ended 2017 with his head in his hands after his missed penalty against Manchester City cost Crystal Palace three points on New Year’s Eve. But he began 2018 by making up for it with a brilliant winner against Southampton, in filthy conditions on the south coast.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s prospects look as dark as the weather after this defeat, as the home crowd lost what little patience remained, particularly as they had taken the lead through Shane Long’s first goal in nearly a year. James McArthur equalised before Milivojevic’s delicate shot from the edge of the box sealed the points.

Palace made three changes to their starting line-up, one enforced because of Scott Dann’s injury, and you suspect Roy Hodgson would have made more but his options were limited. He named two left backs on the Palace bench, basically because he would have been left with empty seats next to him.

The opening 10 minutes or so were lively enough: Long almost scored straight from the kick-off, and Andros Townsend did his Arjen Robben act, cutting in from the right on his left foot and shooting low and hard, but straight at the goalkeeper.

Then, after 17 minutes, something remarkable happened: Long scored. This is not to unfairly traduce the Irish striker’s abilities, but it was his first competitive goal since February 11th, 2017, thumping Jeremy Pied’s low cross into the bottom corner with the certainty one does not associate with a player who had not scored for 324 days.

Shane Long of Southampton celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Shane Long of Southampton celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Not long afterwards the skies broke open and began dumping huge amounts of rain on to a pitch which made an already choppy-looking surface even more boggy. Palace already looked pretty leggy after their excellent, exhausting performance in the draw against City, and 70s-style turf was not helping.

Christian Benteke’s confidence looks subterranean and Wilfried Zaha carries the air of a man frustrated that he is the only one in his team able to provide any real threat. Not that Southampton coped much better: whether it was the pitch, the weather or simply two of the Premier League’s more mediocre sides living up to their reputations, the fare was pretty grim. Hodgson was alone when he threw up his arms in frustration at the half-time whistle. Everyone else was grateful for the chance to take shelter.

The second half did not get much better. The only thing that really changed was the wind, switching from strong but predictable to swirling, which when combined with the worsening rain at least raised the prospect of some entertaining chaos.

Both teams tried to lessen this prospect with cautious passing, leading to inevitable frustration from their respective sets of fans, but anything particularly adventurous was rendered almost impossible by the conditions. Neither side could fashion many chances, but Palace had the best of them when Benteke’s low shot was saved by Alex McCarthy, keeping his place ahead of Fraser Forster, dropped for the weekend’s 0-0 draw with Manchester United.

Then Palace equalised, although it should not have stood. Townsend clipped a nice cross into the middle where Benteke was half a yard offside as he knocked it down. The linesman kept his flag down and McArthur hammered the ball into the roof of the net, no Southampton defender apparently keen on clearing it.

Pellegrino made some attacking changes, bringing on Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond, but it was Palace who had the literal and metaphorical wind behind them, and it was they who scored the clincher.

Townsend and substitute Bakary Sako combined nicely on the right, the former slid a pass to Milivojevic on the edge of the area, and he measured a delicate finish into the bottom corner. Boos rang out from the home fans, the giddy travelling support suggested Pellegrino will not be Saints manager for much longer. They might well be right. – Guardian service

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