26/12/2014: Crystal Palace 1-3 Saints
Saints recorded their second consecutive win with a comfortable display against Crystal Palace. Ronald Koeman's men move up to 4th ahead of Sunday's game against Chelsea.
The first 10 minutes or so were fairly even and low on quality. Toby Alderweireld nearly caught Speroni out with an audacious lob, clipping the crossbar. Former Saint Jason Puncheon had the first proper chance for the home side, shooting low straight at Fraser Forster.
Saints took the lead in the 17th minute, having taken control of possession. Sadio Mane and James Ward-Prowse combined with a quick interchange, before the former rounded Julian Speroni to net from a tight angle. Palace had decent spells of possession before half-time, but lacked ideas in the final third. Saints were very well organised and limited the home side to long shots and set pieces. Jedinak shot straight at Forster on 26. At the other end Ward-Prowse shot over following good work from Mane. The same player then headed over from Bertrand's deflected cross on 42.
Saints started the second half with plenty of intensity. The visitors doubled their lead just a few minutes in. Mane cleverly turned Joel Ward on the right before cutting the ball back to Ryan Bertrand in the penalty area. The full-back fired into the roof of the net with his right foot.
Koeman's side continued to maintain a high tempo during the next 15 minutes or so. The home side were carved open on several occasions, with Saints passing the ball about at pace. It was 3-0 on 53 when Toby Alderweireld launched a powerful header past Speroni from Ward-Prowse's corner.
Saints gradually eased off during the last 25 minutes or so, possibly with an eye on Sunday's game. The visitors played within themselves slightly, happy to conserve their energy knowing the result was pretty much safe. Palace seemed resigned to their fate too, offering very little in attack apart from speculative long balls. Mane had the last major chance for Saints, curling just wide of the post on 69 following some good build-up play.
The Eagles would eventually grab one back. Scott Dann climbed above Victor Wanyama to head in from a free-kick. Palace briefly pressured for a second, which would have made for a nervy last few minutes, but Saints soon regained their composure and did a professional job in seeing the game out.
An excellent performance from Saints. The team was well drilled, with everyone contributing individually too. Koeman stuck with the 3-5-2 formation which brought the team success against Everton, but also made a few changes to the starting line-up. The Dutchman got it right once again. The inclusion of Mane really made the difference. The Senegalese forward troubled Palace with his skill and pace. For the first time in a long time Saints had genuine options on the bench. Dusan Tadic wasn't even required on this occasion. It bodes well for the next two games where Saints may need to mix things up to keep everyone fresh.
Forster: 7. A few straight-forward saves. Good on crosses and long balls. Made one very important punch out during the first half
Gardos: 7. Looked a tad uncomfortable on the ball early on, but settled down and had things pretty easy for the most part. Kept it simple
Alderweireld: 8. Made some good last ditch challenges. The goal was a nice reward for a strong display
Yoshida: 7. A few minor errors, but overall pretty good. Showed off some of his skill
Clyne: 8. Got better as the game went on. Caused all sorts of problems for his former club going forward
Bertrand: 7. Slightly sloppy early on, but overall a decent contribution and both ends. A cracking finish for the second goal
Ward-Prowse: 8. Some quality passing. Looked sharper than he has since his return
Schneiderlin: 8. Tactically alert and strong in the tackle as ever
Davis: 6. One mishap in the first-half nearly played Saints in trouble, but otherwise pretty steady before he came off early in the 2nd half
Mane: 8. Heavily involved in most of Saints' good attacking play. Timed his runs well
Pelle: 7. Not as active as Mane in the penalty area, but did all the simple things well and involved in the opening goal
Wanyama: 6. Passable midfield showing
Long: 5. Ran around a lot, but the game was dead by the time he came on
McCarthy: Yet another academy debutant. Got a few touches on the ball towards the end of the game
Crystal Palace - Dann (86)
Saints - Mane (17) Bertrand (48) Alderweireld (53)
Attendance - 24,565
Referee: Mike Dean
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley (Zaha 67), McCarthur, Puncheon, Bolasie (Kelly 72), Campbell (Gayle 49)
Saints: Forster, Gardos, Alderweireld, Yoshida, Clyne (McCarthy 87), Bertrand, Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin, S Davis (Wanyama 56), Mane, Pelle (Long 72)
Subs not used: K Davis, Targett, Reed, Tadic