Crystal Palace Home Won 4 – 1
You don’t have to have been around too long before the Liebherr era to remember last day of the season dramas that always involved a desire to maintain the status quo rather than progress. However, Saints had a Europa League place to play for as they faced Crystal Palace with an almost unchanged side – only injured Clasie missing, while the visitors switched things around with a Wembley appearance in mind. The odds favoured the home team as quite a few things had to go wrong by Cup Final day to miss out, but their fate wasn’t entirely in their own hands and news of a West Ham goal changed the mood. At St. Mary’s, early exchanges weren’t too promising either as Forster was the busier keeper, although second-stringer Speroni always looked the more likely to concede. You have to keep calm in these matches, but it wasn’t until 43 minutes were on the clock that Saints went ahead, courtesy of Speroni for failing to gather a cross, but what are now the usual suspects of assistant Tadić and scorer Mané (more difficult than it looked I suspect) also get credit. Pellè came on for Romeu at the break, which was an odd way of protecting the lead, but by the time an hour had been played, a mood of optimism filled the ground: an equaliser for Stoke against the Hammers helped immensely, and then Pellè vindicated the manager’s tactics by heading home Martina’s cross either majestically or illegally depending on who you support. Forster had a fine run of clean sheets to his name earlier this season, but he hasn’t recorded any more since that streak ended, and Puncheon was the latest to crack in a long distance shot from the right that suggests a lack of cover in that area. A slim advantage didn’t last long as Mané was pulled down on the edge of/just inside the box (again depending on preference) and although Ward-Prowse was on the pitch as sub for Tadić, the new figure of Bertrand was trusted to just about beat Speroni from the spot. The end couldn’t come soon enough for Palace who conceded again to Davis and Saints could have run in a few more had Mané and Davis taken more care with their finishing, but the only thing that mattered now was whether West Ham could retake the lead – and a second Stoke goal just before the end put paid to that idea. Saints had amassed their Premier League record points tally anyway, and they also finished their own campaign in a season-high position of fifth – temporarily as it happens, but a great effort nevertheless. At the post-match interview you sensed manager Koeman’s pride at his side’s achievements, but there were those in the lap of honour who didn’t seem to see their future in the city… someone should remind them of all those ‘Titanic’ players of recent years who “should never have left Southampton.”
LSSC Man of the Match: Sadio Mané with another goal and an assist for the penalty.
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