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Southampton 2-0 Crystal Palace (Southampton Fan's Perspective)

Tuesday 27th December 2011
Southampton cemented their position at the top of the Championship after a solid home performance against a stubborn Crystal Palace side. A goal in each half from Brazilian Guly Do Prado, the unorthodox forward, meant the Saints took all 3 points in an open encounter.

Saints made one change to the side that drew at rivals Portsmouth, with Belgian winger Steve De Ridder coming in to replace captain Dean Hammond, meaning a change of formation to a 4-4-2. Striker David Connolly was on the bench after a few weeks out with injury, with the rest of the squad unchanged. Palace welcomed back Wilfred Zaha from suspension as he started on the right-wing, however, manager Dougie Freedman set-up his side more defensively from his side's 1-0 win against Birmingham, as Peter Ramage started as a fifth defender, and Stuart O'Keefe also featured instead of striker Chris Martin, on loan from Norwich.

 The match got off to a steady start, with De Ridder causing Ramage a few problems down the Saints right, although the final ball evaded the Belgian. The first chance of the game came on nine minutes, with a neat move resulting in a good ball to the back post finding an unmarked and in-form Rickie Lambert, though the striker was denied impressively this time by Julian Speroni. It was clear from the start that the away side were willing to sit behind the ball and let Saints try and break them down, something the home side were finding tricky throughout most of the game. Lambert & Guly were working hard to try and hold up the ball and bring others into play, but Palace, with the extra defensive man, were holding strong.

One lapse in the Yellows' defence went unpunished however. Just five minutes after Lambert's chance, McCarthy's header back towards his own goalkeeper was not noted quickly enough by Speroni, and the ball went out for a Saints corner. This was taken quickly by Lallana and Danny Fox, although maybe too quickly, as a rushed effort from Guly was fairly comfortably collected by Palace's Argentine 'keeper. The flow to Southampton's game was slick, and the passing became more fluent as men broke forward to find an opening. French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin was bossing the middle of the park, with his trademark quater-back passes finding wide men De Ridder and Lallana nearly every occasion. Despite Palace's resistance, Saints remained patient in their build-up and continued to work the ball around nicely at a good tempo which would have pleased manager Nigel Adkins.

A sign that the game was to open up came shortly before the half-hour mark, with both sides breaking to almost deadly effect. As Saints pressed forward, Crystal Palace attacked with presence on the break for almost the first time, with Richardson failing to deal with a looping ball, and with Scannell charging in on goal, De Ridder did fantastically well to get back and put in a brilliant tackle to halt the lively forward's run. Palace did little to test Kelvin Davis in the home goal, as he joked with the crowd behind the Chapel end goal about his lapse ball control from a ball boy's pass.  The man who made his move from Palace's arch rivals Brighton in the Summer, Glen Murray, was niggling away at Jos Hooiveld's heels to try and get anything on goal for his side, but snatched at a shot after the ball bounced to him on the edge of the box.

Guly Do Prado celebrates his first goal with team-mate Morgan Schneiderlin.

The initial pressure of the half came from the Hampshire side, as Guly looked to add to his earlier goal, though when through on goal from Lambert's pass , he failed to capitalise on space in front of him to get a shot away, as the cut inside resulted in an interception. Further pressure came to nothing however, with Fox's delivery all game was erratic, either falling too short or way too long, over everybody's head a couple of times in the second-half. The away side then went onto have a spell of pressure, clearly propelled on by their manager's half-time words. The 'sit back and hope for a point' attitude of the earlier game had gone, and Palace were now willing to throw more bodies forward to gain something from the encounter. However, these attempts meant they were caught on the break, and De Ridder's and Cork's neat one-two's teed up Lallana on the edge on the box, who's shot was deflected behind, only for the referee to give a goal-kick.

After Palace won a corner of their own at the Northam End, they appealed in vein for a penalty, as McCarthy's header first hit the post with Davis stranded, and the rebound appeared to strike an arm of a clearing defender, this not seen either by Referee Salisbury, who waved play-on. Very soon after theses appeals, and with the Palace bench still in uproar, Clyne's ball from the right saw Murray hit a shot first-time into the safe arms of Davis. A period of ever-changing possession then played out, before Crystal Palace made their first change of the afternoon, Chris Martin coming on for the booked Ramage, meaning a change of tactics as Palace returned to a more attacking, positive system, matched by their approach to the second-half.

Shortly after this, another substitution came, again from Palace, as Irishman Owen Garvan came on, much to the confusion of the Announcer, who pronounced his name with a more foreign tone then was needed. O'Keefe was the man replaced. As Palace piled forward, they were caught by a countering home side, though Southampton's lack of pace up-front, hoping to be addressed in the January transfer window, became even more apparent, as chances to double the lead came to nothing. Centre-back McCarthy was then booked for foul on the impressive Schneiderlin, which led the way to a killer second goal.

After more good passing from Southampton, Frazer Richardson received the ball on the right-wing, and like so many occasions this season, his cross was perfection for Do Prado, who got his head to the ball before the on-rushing Speroni and doubled the Saints' lead. Guly's mixed showings this week summed the Brazilian up, with a confusing and woeful performance against Portsmouth a catalyst for some pathetic boo's when his name was read out at the start of the game, though he yet again turned in an effective St Mary's performance, showing a goal-scoring touch that would not look out of place in his own nations national side.

David Connolly, much maimed by injury in his latter career, returned to partner Rickie Lambert up-front in the closing 15 minutes, as  De Ridder went off to a much deserved standing ovation from the capacity crowd. Guly was now on the right wing, a shape adopted by Southampton at the start of the season. As time ran out for the away side, they brought on journeyman Jermaine Easter for the now numberless (through a blood injury) and luckless Murray, the home side also making a change - Schneiderlin off, Dean 'Deano' Hammond on.

The atmosphere and tempo soon died down, as Saints slowed down the gears. Four minutes stoppage time was added, in which Palace offered no threat, as their supporters filled the exits for the trip home to London. Full-time, and another Southampton win - shock horror. In all seriousness, the game was a challenge for the Saints at times, though they came through a tough test against a youthful Palace side to gain a valuable and well-earned 3 points, with a fantastic defensive display showing why the team are top of the table.

Other results went Southampton's way, so all in all, a good afternoon's work for the currently labelled 'Red and White Machine'. This tag can certainly be seen at fortress St Mary's, though consistency needs to be maintained away from home if the Saints are to go marching on to the Premier League again. With other results (West Ham drew 1-1 away to Birmingham), everybody at Southampton Football Club would have had a good day, beaming down at the rest of the Championship, 3 points clear. Bristol City visit St Mary's next, on Friday 30th December, 7.45pm KO.

Man Of The Match : Jos Hooiveld: A commanding and fautless display against a pesty Glen Murray showed why the Dutchman has earned plaudit after plaudit since his arrival south of the border. Nigel Adkins described the whole team's performance as solid, none more so than 'Jos the Boss' in my opinion.

 
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; De Ridder, Cork, Schneiderlin, Lallana; Lambert, Guly.

Palace (5-4-1): Speroni; Clyne, Parr, McCarthy, Gardner, Ramage; Dikgacoi, Scannell, O'Keefe, Zaha; Murray.

Attendance: 31, 524 (including 2,786 away).
Jack Lambden

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