Southampton v Crystal Palace
St.Mary’s, Sunday 15th May 2016
> Mané, Pellè, Bertrand (penalty) and Davis the scorers
> At least 6th place guaranteed
> Qualify for the Europa League
As we stood there after the match finished, there was much discussion over where Saints had finished in the Premier League. I knew that we could have finished anywhere from 5th to 8th, depending on results. As we had won, Liverpool's result was irrelevant, as they couldn't catch us. That was 7th in the bag then. The news that West Ham had lost to Stoke, having led 1-0 at half time filtered through. That meant we had leapfrogged them as well, so 6th was in the bag. The Manchester United game being abandoned, due to a suspect package being discovered at Old Trafford, meant that Saints were temporarily in 5th spot on goal difference. Unless Bournemouth can beat ManU in the rearranged fixture on Tuesday, then that is going to translate into a final 6th place and Europa League qualification is assured. So, another season of matches on Thursday and Sunday then.
We started the day early, as one of our number brought his grandson with him and he wanted to get as many players autographs as possible. We got to St.Mary's just before 11am and shortly after the first player turned up, James Ward-Prowse in a big impressive black car. One by one, others arrived, Charlie Austin, Maarten Stekelenburg, Fraser Forster, Steven Davis, Virgil van Dijk, Harrison Reed, José Fonte, Shane Long, Dušan Tadić, Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mané (who seemed very happy and was chatting to everybody), Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu and Cuco Martina. All spent time signing autographs and posing for pictures. It was noticeable that Austin and Mané in particular spent an age doing this. The Senegalese was also very relaxed and good at dealing with the young kids. Funny how you can get a completely different impression of some of these players on the pitch.
After lunch we walked back to the ground and took our places, there was a general end of season feel, tinged with wondering whether we would end up qualifying for Europe again.
The only change to the Saints team was the enforced one of the injured Clasie being replaced by Romeu. Palace though had made several changes, with the FACup Final on the following weekend in mind.
The game kicked off and the tone for the rest of the afternoon was quickly set, with missed passes and mistakes left, right and centre. The only player not seeming to make mistakes was Fraser Forster, who went on to have a fine game, saving at least three certain goals. We are very, very lucky to have him. Long may that continue.
The first goalkeeping error was by Palace's Speroni, who had looked shaky several times, but on this occasion he came off his line to deal with a cross and could only punch the ball away, but right to the feet of Mané, who lobbed the ball over the keeper and into the net. 1-0.
We arrived at half-time, reasonably happy to be 1-0 up, but aware that the majority of the players on the pitch were making mistakes, so this was unlikely to be the final score.
What we are not prepared for was Romeu was replaced by Pellè when the teams reappeared. I missed the switch and the first time I spotted the big Italian was when he mis-hit a pass. The thing was that Romeu and had a decent first half, so what was Ron trying to do?
Another one having a decent game was Martina and around the 60 minute mark he took the ball and looked to have run out of room by the byline and was being harried by two Palace defenders. Somehow he found room to cross the ball and it hung invitingly away from Speroni, but met Graziano's glistening locks and it was 2-0. He immediately ran to the touchline and embraced Kelvin Davis, to be joined by most of the other players. The thought occurred to me that this was Pellè saying goodbye, but maybe it was just a close group of players celebrating together?
The trouble now, was that Saints were unbalanced and without Romeu controlling the midfield with Wanyama, there was acres of space for Palace to exploit. Which they did. And yes, it was the inevitable Puncheon who did score. It was a good goal. It had to be to beat Forster. 2-1.
Meanwhile Mané had been having a good game, stretching and generally terrorising the Palace defence. For the umpteenth time in the match, Saints broke at pace from the back and Davis sent a ball up the middle for Mané to chase. He got it and was almost through on goal when he was caught in a Palace sandwich. Penalty! The ref had a clear view from behind, but waited for the linesman to confirm the it was inside the box. It was. Then there was a really odd moment where Ward-Prowse (on for Tadić just 3 minutes before) picked up the ball to take the penalty. He was then approached by both Fonte and Pellè and the upshot was that the ball was handed to Ryan Bertrand. It was obviously not what Koeman was expecting either, as he turned around to the bench for answers.
Whatever was happening, Bertrand stepped up to the ball, hesitated slightly and crashed the ball into the top left corner. Speroni might of just got a hand to it, but it was too strongly hit to make any difference. 3-1.
As the game headed into the final 15 minutes the mistakes were coming thick and fast. End to end stuff, with every attack looking like a goal.
The final nail in the coffin of the game came 5 minutes from the end when, in yet another break Davis cooly slotted past the hapless Speroni. 4-1.
Then came the wait for the other results as the Palace fans left the ground. 5th place. Really??!!
The players and their families came out for the customary end of season lap of honour. How many of these players would we never see in a Saints shirt again?
Saints have now improved their position in each of the last six seasons. This is some club. I intend to enjoy it while it lasts. Cheers Ron (raises glass in the general direction of St.Mary's)
See you all back here later in the year.
Monday, 16th May 2016
17 van Dijk
14 Romeu (Pellè 45' - Booked 72')
11 Tadic (Ward-Prowse 72')
7 Long (Austin 83')
2 Ward - Booked 54' (Kelly 82')
18 McArthur - Booked 59' (Lee Chung-yong 78')
22 Mutch (Kaikaiat 45')
14 Lee Chung-yong
- Mané 43'
- Pellè 61'
- Bertrand 75' (penalty)
- Davis 87'
Crystal Palace 1
- Puncheon 64'
Referee : Michael Oliver
Attendance : 31,313
- Southampton 49%
- Crystal Palace 51%
- Southampton 18
- Crystal Palace 16
Shots on Target
- Southampton 5
- Crystal Palace 4
- Southampton 2
- Crystal Palace 5
- Southampton 7
- Crystal Palace 14