Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 1
After all the talk beforehand about this being a possible six-pointer, Southampton and Crystal Palace were forced to settle for one apiece on a night that ended amid acrimony and no little anger as Wilfried Zaha was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession.
Zaha, who had earlier scored his first goal in more than four months to put Palace ahead, was given a second yellow card for applauding the referee Andre Marriner’s decision to book him in the first place, after he had squared up to James Ward-Prowse.
That flashpoint provided a dramatic end to what had been a fairly uneventful evening up until that stage. Southampton took a long time to get going and had to wait until the 77th minute for an equaliser that had rarely looked like coming. Ward-Prowse was the scorer from close range and both sides had chances to snatch victory at the death as the game finally came to life.
The early signs were not exactly encouraging for either team on a bitterly cold evening. A flat and scrappy opening produced nothing of note until just before the 20th minute, and even then it was a desperately poor shot from James McArthur, who was left totally unmarked as four Southampton players were drawn towards Zaha.
Jordan Ayew also should have done better moments later but he selfishly opted to go it alone after Jan Bednarek, dithering on the ball close to the halfway line, was caught in possession.
Southampton roused briefly midway through the first half, when a couple of chances fell to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in the space of two minutes. The midfielder glanced the first, from Matt Targett’s cross, wide of the far upright.
The second opportunity arrived after Danny Ings won a 50-50 with Mamadou Sakho – the Palace defender endured a difficult opening to the game – and picked out Højbjerg's run. Although the Dane hit his shot well it was too close to Vicente Guaita and the Palace goalkeeper, who was restored to the starting lineup after recovering from a calf injury, beat the ball away low to his right.
Generally, though, Southampton were disappointing in that opening period. They never attacked with any conviction and there was a vulnerability about them defensively whenever Palace countered. In that sense it was a not a great surprise when Palace took the lead shortly before the interval.
The goal had been a long time coming from Zaha’s point of view and it owed much to Andre Marriner’s decision to play an excellent advantage. The referee could easily have given a free-kick when Oriel Romeu brought down Andros Townsend on the edge of the area, but instead he allowed play to continue and Zaha finished clinically, drilling a low shot inside Alex McCarthy’s near upright.
Southampton simply had to improve after the restart. Ings offered hope that would be the case when he wriggled clear of a couple of Palace defenders before seeing his shot saved by Guaita, but that turned out to be an isolated chance in the first 20 minutes of the second half rather than any sign that the home team were building momentum.
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhüttl responded by replacing Yan Valery with Stuart Armstrong as frustration started to build in the stands. Palace were content to sit deep, defend in numbers and play on the break. The visitors also looked dangerous on set-pieces and came close to adding a second from a corner when Bednarek cleared Sakho's stabbed effort off the line.
The significance of that moment became clear when Southampton equalised moments later, after putting together their best move of the evening by a distance. Nathan Redmond and Armstrong combined on the left to release Targett and his low centre was confidently dispatched by Ward-Prowse. Then came that Zaha red card as tempers boiled over.