Southampton now a point off fourth after Crystal Palace win
Sadio Mane strikes late to break the deadlock at St Mary’s
Sadio Mane of Southampton celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace
This was just the tonic that Southampton needed to halt a steady decline. With 10 minutes remaining their malaise of late looked set to continue, but Sadio Mané’s determination and deft touch secured a first win at home since New Year’s Day for Ronald Koeman’s side whose top-four ambitions received a welcome boost.
Crystal Palace had won five successive away matches under Alan Pardew before this defeat and will count themselves unlucky to not have at least earned a point. Wilfried Zaha hit a post and Fraser Forster was twice called upon during a second half that could have easily have swung their way, with unease beginning to creep in at St Mary’s as Southampton struggled to create any telling opportunities.
Saints had not scored for 387 minutes before Mané’s late strike, a fine run and calm finish to end a game that had been drifting away. In the end, though, Koeman will care little about the manner of this win.
Southampton dominated the first half in possession terms, but for all their control of the ball they were blighted by insipid attacking play. They were simply out of ideas, quite capable of manoeuvring the ball to the edge of the Crystal Palace penalty area but too often unable to unlock the door.
Julián Speroni had only one save to make during a forgettable opening 45 minutes. It has become a pattern of Saints’ play in recent weeks, with Graziano Pellè out of form and the goals in short supply; a lack of composure and a growing frustration has crept in at St Mary’s, with the high standards set earlier in the season appearing elusive.
Palace rarely ventured outside of their own half but, for the most part, were comfortable in containing Southampton. Mané was causing Martin Kelly problems down the right flank but it was Victor Wanyama who fashioned the first opportunity of the match, his scuffed shot dragged into the path of Filip Djuricic who scooped over the crossbar from inside the penalty area.
In truth, that was about it until Speroni was called into action five minutes before half-time. A Southampton corner was whipped into the six-yard box but Yannick Bolasie’s headed clearance only found Eljero Elia, whose smart shot on the turn was palmed away low down by Speroni. Pellè pounced on the rebound but could only prod wide. It was as close as Southampton came in the first half, although Palace offered little threat of their own. The most dangerous moment for Pardew’s side came when Forster fumbled a Bolasie cross before leaping on to the loose ball.
Things swiftly turned after half-time as Palace, so limited early on, grew into the game. Bolasie, Puncheon and Zaha were suddenly combining potently in attack, as Southampton’s defence began to suffer.
First it was Puncheon to test Forster in the 48th minute. Bolasie jinked inside from the left and slipped the ball inside where Puncheon appeared tightly marked. However, in the blink of an eye the in-form midfielder made room for a shot and fizzed an effort straight at Forster.
The goalkeeper was soon called upon again. This time it was Bolasie with the shot, fed into the area by Zaha down the right and attempting a low effort across goal. Forster was equal to it once more, but Southampton failed to clear and the ball fell to Zaha again, beating a man before firing past Forster only to be denied by the post.
Southampton survived, but the momentum had appeared to shift. Djuricic attempted to provide a spark in midfield, and a driving run from the Serb resulted in a corner from which his side so nearly scored. Pellè flicked on the near-post cross and Maya Yoshida was well placed to finish from a couple of yards out but the centre-half could only deflect the ball wide with the goal gaping. It was Pellè’s last act of the match, the Italian replaced by Shane Long with 20 minutes remaining.
It was Mané, though, who struck the decisive late blow. The Senegalese midfielder was the driving force behind a move that started from nothing on the right flank, with Palace seemingly in little danger. However, Mané found the substitute James Ward-Prowse and the space opened up for a shot. He fired low at Speroni who could only parry into the path of the onrushing Mané who dinked deftly over the goalkeeper and in.