Southampton ended 2019 with a 4-point buffer to the relegation zone after a late goal from Danny Ings rescued a point at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday night.
Both teams came into the game on the back of impressive Boxing Day wins as Southampton looked to make it three wins on the bounce after away victories at Aston Villa and Chelsea. Ralph Hassenhuttl recalled in-form striker Danny Ings to the starting XI after he was rested for most of the game at Stamford Bridge, whilst Roy Hodgson was forced to hand starts to Jairo Riedewald and James McCarthy as Palace’s defensive injury crisis continues.
Despite their recent form, neither side managed to register a single shot on target in a feisty opening 45 minutes, the talking point of the half coming in the form of a disallowed goal in the 15th minute. Wilfried Zaha superbly drove down the left flank past Cedric and Ward-Prowse, before setting up Max Meyer in the middle, who emphatically side-footed the ball into the roof of the net. However, the away side’s celebrations were abruptly cut short as VAR showed Zaha’s shoulder was marginally offside in the buildup, the goal thus ruled out by referee Andy Madley.
Tensions rose as half-time loomed with Palace’s frustration feeding into Luka Milivojevic’s 33rd minute booking which handed Southampton the best chance of the half. Ward-Prowse whipped in the resulting free-kick across the face of goal – picking out the unmarked Jan Bednerak – but the defender was unable to divert his shot towards goal.
The second half saw much more goalmouth action, with Crystal Palace breaking the deadlock just 5 minutes after the restart. The goal came directly from a set piece – Milivojevic’s right-sided delivery found the rising head of James Tomkins on the edge of the six yard box, who sent the ball underneath the crossbar and into the net. There was no danger of VAR ruling it out this time as Tomkins celebrated his first goal of the season in front of the travelling Palace supporters.
A sense of unease began to fill St Mary’s following the goal, but Hassenhuttl was quick to raise the spirits of the home supporters by sending on the attacking pair of Stuart Armstrong and Moussa Djenepo in hope of finding an equaliser. This sparked the Saints into life as Djenepo began to pose a threat on the left-hand side, but the Saints were still struggling to carve out a clear-cut chance, before being gifted a lifeline by Martin Kelly. Goalkeeper Guaita spilled a cross from Ward-Prowse only moments before and this proved to be a precursor to the calamity from the Palace defender.
A sloppy squared pass from Martin Kelly was out of reach for Milivojevic but was perfectly weighted for the onrushing Ings, who confidently slotted the ball past Guaita into the bottom corner. His equaliser was his eight goal in as many starts, and with his recent form in the Premier League, discussions around a possible England call up will surely intensify.
The home side sprung into life after leveling proceedings and the home crowd began to loudly rally behind their team in search of a winner. Djenepo continued to pressurise the Palace defence with his pace and trickery and went close to giving the Saints the lead not long after Ings’s goal. A wonderful solo run saw the Mali international cut in from the left and shift the ball onto his right foot, but his powerful strike was acrobatically saved by the Eagles’ keeper.
Southampton continued to push for the winner as another mazy run from Djenpo set up Ings in the middle, but the in-form striker could only guide his header over the crossbar. Guaita was forced into action once more in the final minutes as he made a leaping save to deny another superbly struck free kick from Ward-Prowse.
Ralph Hasenhuttl and his team will be disappointed not to score a well-deserved winner, but they will certainly settle for a point that extends their unbeaten run. They are yet to keep a clean sheet at home this season but remain 4 points clear of the relegation zone. Crystal Palace stay in 9th position on 27 points, with Roy Hodgson requesting for ‘four or five players’ to be brought in during the January transfer window.
Ralph Hasenhuttl gave his reaction to Sky Sports after the game:
It was one of our better performances at home against a difficult opponent because they’re sitting deep, not giving us a lot of space and I think we had good subs today. We still believe in what we are doing and we have seen a much better performance.
Southampton hope to continue their good run of form when they welcome Tottenham to St Mary’s on New Year’s Day, while Palace travel to struggling Norwich in their later kick-off of 5.30pm.