Saints At Crystal Palace The Verdict
Sunday, 2nd Sep 2018 09:50
The win at Selhurst Park was very satisfying but it was a strange feeling and something we haven't experienced much of late.
It has been almost a year since we won 1-0 up at Crystal Palace last season, in the 50 weeks since that win we have strangely only won three times on a Saturday in the Premier League, twice against West Brom and at the end of the season against Bournemouth at St Mary's.
So walking out of a football ground on a Saturday with a smile on Saints fans faces was something I haven't experienced very much in that time.
But the strangest thing about this win was how one team could be so dominant for 65 minutes and then for the final 25 minutes be so much on the back foot and hanging on.
Mark Hughes picked a team very similar to the one I predicted in the preview although I was surprised to see both Shane Long and Danny Ings in the starting line up.
The first half was dominated by Saints there was only one team in it and we really should have gone into the dressing room at half time at least a goal up.
Many Saints fans though had not got back to their seats when Saints did take the lead straight after the break, the ball was crossed towards Shane Long who, knowing Ings was coming in behind him, appeared to let the ball go over his head aided by a nudge in his back by a defender, this wrong footed the keeper and there was Ings to slot the ball home and give Saints a deserved lead.
Now Saints were in the ascendancy and it looked like a second was imminent and shortly after the hour mark that seemed to be about to be the case when Saints were awarded a penalty, but Charlie Austin hit his shot tamely and little did the Saints fans know but the pattern of the game was about to change.
In fairness to Austin it wasn't so much the penalty miss that changed the game, but the fact that Shane Long had had to go off minutes before to be replaced by Austin, Long had worked his socks off, not only in penning the Palace defence from playing the ball out, but by holding the ball up himself, movement is not Austin's forte and Palace suddenly could build momentum from the back.
We suddenly looked a different side, we lacked a leader on the pitch to keep the team motivated and focused, individually players suddenly seemed to be able to do the basics, we didn't seem to know when to play the ball and when to put our foots through it an clear.
Palace suddenly had energy and enthusiasm, luckily they didn't have enough quality, but we just kept helping them by failing to clear our lines when we needed to.
Alex McCarthy who up to the hour point had not been having a great game, missing a few crosses he really should of got, suddenly became a contender for man of the match as his goal was bombarded, the pick of his contribution being a point blank save in the final minutes.
Why we suddenly became a different team is baffling, yes the departure of Long left us a little unbalanced and with Hughes needing to take off a striker and change formation he could hardly take off Austin after only 10 minutes on the pitch, so had no choice but to bring off Ings, when really he needed to keep him on the pitch.
But the worrying thing is we really need a leader to calm things down and keep control on the pitch when things get tight in the closing stages as the players themselves can't seem to keep their cool under pressure.
Yes as Roy Hodgson was honest enough to admit after the game, we fully deserved the win, but we tried to help them salvage a point, luckily enough they spurned the gift.
But we won the game and for the first time this season perhaps got a slice of luck and took the three points, this will do wonders for the confidence of the side and now gives us something to build on, suddenly the table looks good to read and although it's early days, this is now a solid start rather than a poor one.
So plenty of plus points from this game, a clean sheet showing that we are starting to get our defensive issues of last season in hand, Danny Ings showing that perhaps now we have the striker we need, Nathan Redmond starting to gain in confidence and perhaps becoming the player he should become, a team that is playing attacking and entertaining football and overall a squad that has both quantity and quality.
When you look at squad members who didn't get on the pitch yesterday, Yoshida, Davis Gunn and Ward Prowse all spending their afternoon on the bench whilst the likes of Gabbiadini, Armstrong, Bednarek, Stephens and Forster not involved at all for various reasons.
Perhaps we can put the last two seasons behind us now and start to realise that we can now move forward and the only thing stopping us is ourselves, the players have what it takes they now just need the confidence.
Photo: Action Images
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