Crystal Palace 1-3 Saints
Saints continued with a three man back line at Crystal Palace but there was an enforced change as Fonte became the latest player to pick up a ban. This gave Gardos a first Premier League start after a good cup performance at Arsenal followed by iffy ones at Stoke and Sheffield, while Mané was chosen ahead of Long. This seemed odd as Long is normally preferred away from home, while the winger’s immediate future must be in doubt once Elia arrives.
Saints came close to taking an early lead through an unlikely, speculative and even spectacular effort from Alderweireld, matched by a save from Speroni. The decision to include Mané became crucial when a slick interchange between Pellè and Ward-Prowse sent him clear and an old fashioned round-the-keeper finish left Southampton ahead at the interval. Mané’s influence doubled the lead just after the break when good work produced a cross clearly intended for Pellè who could only oblige with an air shot; no matter, as Bertrand was on hand to apply an emphatic finish.
Emphatic also has to be the word for the third goal, headed home powerfully by Alderweireld from Ward-Prowse’s corner. That meant the game was effectively over with over 30 minutes remaining but Dann pulled one back for the home side when he headed home a free kick with time already running out. No-one in the crowd realised it on the day, but time had already run out for Neil Warnock as Palace became the first club to blink in the post Christmas relegation panic – in fact they had always looked to be amongst the favourites for the drop… but so had Southampton in some people’s minds!
LSSC Man of the Match: Sadio Mané. He has frustrated more than excited so far in his Saints career, which will soon be interrupted by the African Cup of Nations as much as Eljero Elia.