Redmond 22 Armstrong 48
BY ROB SUTHERLAND AT SELHURST PARK
There were signs early in this game that Crystal Palace would struggle.
Where a typically-energetic midfield three would seek to establish a semblance of dominance, Roy Hodgson’s midfield looked sluggish and slow to respond on Tuesday night.
James McArthur, who has featured in most of the club’s matches during the busy winter calendar, misplaced a pass that he would typically complete.
James McCarthy, whose tenacity was such a feature of the draw against Manchester City, struggled to keep up with his opponents.
Cheikh Kouyate, so often a dominant player in the air, misplaced an early header.
It set the tone for what was a thoroughly disappointing night at Selhurst Park. Southampton could have run away with this match.
There is mitigation. Palace’s chronic injury issues tend to be highlighted in fixtures that come in quick succession, and Hodgson has made the point in recent days that he’s looking forward to the return of six first-team players.
The hosts, lack of options or not, just weren’t competitive enough.
One player that looks to have suffered the most from the injury crisis is Martin Kelly, who has filled in at right-back since Joel Ward left the pitch against Chelsea back in November.
Kelly looked excellent when played in the middle of the back four earlier in the season. He has been a diligent servant when called upon to fill in on the right but repeated exposure to quick-thinking, pacey wingers has taken its toll.
Kelly struggled to keep up with Nathan Redmond and allowed the winger the time and space to fire a superb shot past Vicente Guaita.
Palace have relied on Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha to lead their attack in all but two of this season’s Premier League games. When you expose your key players to so many games in succession, there is a case to be made that their effectiveness is impacted. Contrast that with Southampton, who rested Danny Ings. It highlights the issues faced by Hodgson.
That fatigue, and the way the squad is hamstrung by injuries, bring Palace’s lack of transfer activity into question once again.
The club were already acutely aware of the lack of cover in full-back positions and attack. They went into the summer transfer window knowing that Hodgson lacked options, and failed to make recruits that would have given him greater flexibility.
Then in the run-up to the January window Palace suffered a series of injuries which brought that lack of depth into even sharper focus.
The club are yet to sign players in those key areas despite having almost six months to prepare for this scenario. Most Premier League sides have two players for every position.
During the busiest spell of the season, Palace had just one specialist right-back and one specialist left-back. Both were injured. In attack, the club have no cover for their wingers. That is a critical lack of depth.
While there are questions about Hodgson’s tactics and his inflexibility in dealing with the specific characteristics of opponents faced – Palace failed to respond to the way that Southampton lined up and their tactical switches during the game — there are serious concerns about the club’s lack of depth when you consider how many of Tuesday’s starting 11 have played regularly throughout the most congested spell of the season.
The club have eight days before they face Sheffield United in their next fixture. Eight days to reinforce the side in areas that have needed recruits since last season.
Palace have 30 points despite their lack of depth. Bringing in two or three more players would give Hodgson and his squad a chance to secure safety earlier than in many previous seasons.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 7, Kelly 5 (Ward 62, 6), Tomkins 6, Cahill 6, Riedewald 5, McArthur 5, Kouyate 5 (Meyer 62, 5), McCarthy 5, Ayew 6, Tosun 5 (Wickham 69, 5), Zaha 5. Not used: Hennessey, Dann, McGregor, Pierrick.