Saints got back to winning ways with a professional display against Crystal Palace. The match was not particularly easy on the eye, but the visitors showed a tad more quality and were worthy of the three points.
The first 15 minutes experienced a fairly frantic battle in the middle of the park, but not much quality in the final third for either team. Palace were content to leave men back. They were well organised, aggressive and hard to break down. Saints looked for opportunities on the counter, but the early transitional play was largely poor. Jay Rodriguez had a shot fly over the bar, in what was the first chance of the game.
Saints soon started to take control of possession without really doing a lot with it. Mauricio Pochettino's side put together a few intricate moves near the Palace box, but not much in the way of clear cut chances. Saints soon started to find a lot more joy on the break. Rodriguez had a shot blocked following a quick burst down the left from Luke Shaw. Palace stepped it up slightly after the first 30 minutes with a series of corners, which were easily dealt with.
Saints took the lead on 39 minutes. Jason Puncheon of all people provided the assist, with a weak header, which was intercepted by Rodriguez on halfway. The striker burst through with a clear run on goal before being met by the onrushing Julian Speroni about 25 yards out. Rodriguez saw off the challenge of the goalkeeper, before hooking the ball slowly along the ground and into the back of the net. The game opened up a bit after that. Steven Davis hesitated on the right of the box, before having his cross/shot cleared. Rickie Lambert then hit the post. At the other end Artur Boruc made a strong save from a low Yannick Bolasie drive.
Palace made a reasonable start to the second half. Mile Jedinak had a free-kick fly over the bar early on, after Bolasie had been hacked down following a fine individual run. At the other end Lambert curled a free-kick just past Speroni's near post. The quality of the game took a dip for a while, with Saints managing to slow the tempo with some controlled possession. Shaw's swerving shot didn't quite catch out Speroni on 73. Palace showed a little bit more urgency towards the end of the game, but little quality where it mattered. Saints players defended well individually and as a collective unit. Even though there was only one goal in it, there was no real last minute onslaught from Palace.
A decent afternoon for Saints. Pochettino's men were on top for extended periods, and looked entirely comfortable while defending their lead. The only concerning thing to come out from the game were the injuries to Dejan Lovren and Jack Cork. Lovren has said he will probably be ok, but Cork appears to be more serious. It will be a shame if he ends up missing a sustained spell of football, because he's probably been our most consistent player since coming back into the side in December.
Saints' record against the bottom half sides this season is particularly impressive. Norwich and Aston Villa are the only teams from that section of the table to take three points from us. Saints are pretty ruthless against the teams they are clearly better than. Our away record has also been extremely impressive. Saints already have more points on their travels than they've ever had before in a 38 game season. In fact, we've currently picked up more points away than we have at home, albeit from one extra game. In our previous top flight run we were often perceived as a soft touch away from home, so it's refreshing to see things change.
Attendance: 25,073 (2,568 Saints fans)
Boruc: 7. Didn't have too many big saves to make, but stood strong at set pieces
Clyne: 6. Limited by Palace going forward, but strong in the tackle defensively
Fonte: 7. Very good aside from one under-hit pass in the first half. Made a number of well-timed challenges
Lovren: 6. Got turned easily a couple of times towards the end, but overall a solid showing. Strong in the air
Shaw: 7. One of Saints' most dangerous attacking outlets. Looks more than worthy of the recent praise
Cork: 5. Uncharacteristically slack in possession early on, but was improving just prior to limping off injured
Schneiderlin: 6. A good high energy display, linked the play well
Davis: 6. Decision making on the ball not always perfect, but usually in the right place at the right time
Lallana: 7. The classiest player on the pitch once again. Plenty of eye catching skill throughout the 90 minutes
Rodriguez: 7. Made a series of expertly timed runs, drifting in from the left
Lambert: 5. Looked off the pace, but a few good moments
Wanyama: 6. A bit of an up and down game. Sloppy in possession at times, but also put in some big tackles. Won a couple of free-kicks
Gallagher: 5. A few good bits of defensive work. Not involved too much at the other end
Ward-Prowse: Came up just prior to stoppage time. Nothing of note to mention