CRYSTAL PALACE 1
BY TOM PRENTKI AT ST MARY’S STADIUM
This was definitely two points dropped. Drawing at a resurgent Southampton is no disgrace, but frustrating when Palace were the better team throughout.
As is so often the case, the headlines all revolve around Wilfried Zaha. Palace fans saw the good and the bad of their star man at St Mary’s Stadium.
He was the most threatening player on the pitch throughout and scored his first Premier League goal since the win at Huddersfield in mid-September, ending a barren spell of 17 matches.
But he was also sent off late on in the most ridiculous of circumstances and will miss the crucial clash against Fulham at Selhurst Park tomorrow.
The 26-year-old received a booking for reacting angrily to a challenge from Southampton wing-back James Ward-Prowse, and then got another yellow card just seconds later when he ironically applauded Andre Marriner’s decision to show him the first.
Zaha, cautioned seven times this season before the midweek match, took to Twitter afterwards in placatory mood. He said: “All I can do is apologise to the team and the fans for my red card, because I could have cost us.”
But the true cost won’t be known until 5pm on Saturday with Palace now just four points off the bottom three.
There is even a risk of Zaha’s ban being extended, given that he remained on the pitch to continue applauding Marriner and the Southampton fans. He had to be encouraged off by his team-mates.
Zaha may not be the only loss for Saturday.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson confirmed that Cheikhou Kouyate and James Tomkins will both need to be assessed after being subbed off at St Mary’s with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively.
Returning to the team that narrowly lost a thriller at Anfield, the former England head coach deployed Andros Townsend, Jordan Ayew and Zaha in a three-pronged attack.
They caused Southampton plenty of problems and could have gone in at the break with more than a goal’s advantage.
Despite only having scored once, through Zaha’s drilled shot into the bottom corner of the net four minutes before the break, the Eagles were giving nothing away at the other end of the pitch.
Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur were providing plenty of protection for the back four and Southampton hardly threatened other than a low shot from Pierre Emile Hojbjerg which Vincente Guaita saved low to his left.
For Palace, James McArthur shot wastefully wide after Zaha had picked him out on the edge of the box while Ayew robbed a Saints defender and burst towards goal only to have his shot blocked by a last-ditch tackle.
It was a case of so far, so good.
But, as has been the case too many times this season, Hodgson’s side just couldn’t get it over the line.
The pattern of play hardly changed. Still the home side got little change out of a resilient Palace and it was the visitors who continued to look more threatening in the second half.
Hodgson felt his players were given little help from Marriner, though insisted the official was only following protocol in sending Zaha off for his petulance.
The 71-year-old was annoyed about a dangerous-looking studs-raised tackle from Jack Stephens on Townsend after half an hour which went completely unpunished. He had every right to feel aggrieved about that.
He also felt his side were denied a penalty when Tomkins was flattened in a goalmouth scramble following a corner in the second half.
But ultimately, Palace had only themselves to blame for failing to secure their fifth away win of the season.
There were other positives too. Aaron Wan-Bissaka continues his impressive development at right-back and the front three combination again showed enough to suggest they can prove a threat for any side.
Townsend is taking more and more responsibility and was arguably the game’s best player, at the heart of all the team’s best work.
It was he who set up the goal, sprinting across the penalty area to pick out Zaha and being taken out by Oriol Romeu in the process.
But ultimately, the travelling Palace faithful are likely to remember the night for the wrong reasons.
James Ward-Prowse’s equaliser 13 minutes from time – against the run of play with the Eagles seemingly in full control – and Zaha’s indiscretion remained the wider talking point.
Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 6, Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 7 (Dann 90), Sakho 7, Van Aanholt 7 McArthur 6, Milivojevic 7, Kouyate 7 (Schlupp 70, 6), Townsend 7, Ayew 6, Zaha 7. Not used: Hennessey, Dann, Meyer, Schlupp, Benteke, Wickham, Kelly.