CRYSTAL PALACE 1
BY SAM SMITH AT ST MARY’S STADIUM
That it took until a mistake in the 74th minute for Crystal Palace to finally concede against Southampton is indicative of just how well Roy Hodgson’s side have coped with adversity over the last few weeks.
The Eagles have dealt incredibly well with a lengthening list of injuries suffered by an already small squad.
In addition, only 48 hours separated this match with Palace’s 2-1 victory over West Ham on Boxing Day. Martin Kelly’s lapse in concentration to pass straight to Danny Ings in the direct build-up to Southampton’s equaliser can be swiftly forgiven.
A squad with better depth and fewer injuries would have allowed Hodgson to make changes for this game. It would have allowed him to rest the likes of James McArthur who has played every minute bar four in the seven outings before this match, despite the Scot being 33 and having been plagued with a back problem during the early stages of the campaign.
Instead, the only changes Hodgson made were enforced. Patrick van Aanholt became the latest casualty on Boxing Day, suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury which had kept him out for a large chunk of December. Cheikhou Kouyate had been playing with an injury for most of the month and he made way for James McCarthy – although the Senegal international did appear from the bench for the final six minutes.
Jairo Riedewald, who replaced Van Aanholt, has had his own fitness issues and there was further worry here when the Dutchman received treatment midway through the second half. Riedewald completed the game but it is further evidence of just how stretched this Palace squad has become. That Hodgson actually considers the 23-year-old as more of a midfield player shows how hard this injury crisis has hit the defensive area in particular.
Van Aanholt, Joel Ward, Gary Cahill, Scott Dann, Jeffrey Schlupp and the 20-year-old Tyrick Mitchell are all defensive options who are absent. Kelly played the full 90 minutes with an injury.
But, against the tide of blows this Palace team has taken recently, this performance was admirable. The Eagles felt hard done by when a VAR referral disallowed Max Meyer’s early effort. Wilfried Zaha’s shoulder was ahead of the Saints’ back four.
That gave further credence to the belief that the offside law should be altered to mean only anything below the waist should be offside. Zaha gained no advantage by having a few milimetres of his upper-body between Southampton’s last defender and the goal. He still took on two players and cut the ball back for Meyer before the ball was in the net. Ultimately, the law is flawed.
There was no way technology could interfere with the perfectly legitimate opener James Tomkins would score five minutes into the second half. Luka Milivojevic’s dinked set-piece found the former West Ham defender in space and he crashed his header in via the crossbar.
Referee Andy Madley then waved away appeals for a penalty when Meyer was challenged by James Ward-Prowse.
Southampton seemed bereft of ideas and also lacked tenacity having beaten Chelsea two days prior. Ralph Hassenhutl had made three changes – although the depth of his squad allowed him to rest top-scorer Ings at Stamford Bridge and bring him back into the side for this fixture.
And it would be the former Liverpool striker who made the most of a rare error by Kelly. Palace had never seemed comfortable on the ball all game. Mamadou Sakho had already nearly been punished for being too lackadaisical in the first half.
Kelly received the ball under pressure in the right-back position, he dallied and played a loose pass across the penalty area intended for Tomkins. However, the Palace goalscorer had moved up the pitch, expecting Kelly to play a long pass into the channel. Ings picked up possession and finished clinically past Vicente Guaita.
Guaita kept his side level. He made two wonderful saves to deny Moussa Djenepro and Ings. Guaita’s impressive form is quickly earning him a reputation as a fans’ favourite.
Just four days separate this game and Palace’s trip to Norwich City on New Year’s Day. That is not enough time for any of the absentees to return. Hodgson even hinted at giving minutes to U23 players – the defender Sam Woods would be the likeliest, particularly if Kelly needs a rest. Woods has been involved in the first team for 18 months and has made two EFL Cup appearances.
The 72-year-old former England manager said afterwards that he looks forward to returning to having games seven days apart. He does not have that luxury until mid-January, by which point Hodgson might even have been granted his wish of new signings to bolster an ever-dwindling squad.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Guaita 8, Kelly 6, Tomkins 8, Sakho 6, Riedewald 7, Meyer 7 (Kouyate 84), McCarthy 7, Milivojevic 6, McArthur 7, Zaha 6, Ayew 6. Not used: Hennessey, Woods, Camarasa, Daly, Pierrick, Wickham
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.