26/12/2011: Saints 2-0 Crystal Palace

Saints secured their first win this month, in a fairly comfortable display against Crystal Palace. Nigel Adkins's men had to be patient against a Crystal Palace side who worked hard and got men behind the ball. Saints made one change from last week's 1-1 draw with Portsmouth, with Steve De Ridder coming in for Dean Hammond to give the side more width. Palace offered little going forward in the first half, challenging Saints to break them down. Most of the play took place in their half, but the hosts struggled to create too many clear cut chances. Rickie Lambert had a header well saved by the keeper, in what was a rare opportunity. Saints got a better grip of the game when Guly dropped deeper into midfield. In fact the home side played much of the game without a real centre forward, with Rickie Lambert often forced out wide. Saints finally made their dominance count on 33 minutes when De Ridder brilliantly worked his way into space, before putting in a cross for Guly to head in for 1-0. De Ridder's direct running caused Palace problems throughout. He was at the heart of many good attacking moves in the first period.

The second half was more open, with Saints finding plenty of space in the final third of the pitch. Guly had a one-on-one saved by Speroni, while Adam Lallana should have done better with his shot that curled just wide of the post. Saints took their foot off the gas slightly as the half wore on, with Palace enjoying more possession. The Eagles were a threat on the counter and at set pieces, although Kelvin Davis was rarely troubled. The hosts gradually got back into the rhythm of things, and on 76 minutes the game was effectively over when Frazer Richardson crossed for Guly to head in his second of the afternoon. There was never any danger of Palace getting themselves back into the game, with Saints passing the ball around well in the closing stages.

Not the most exciting of games, but Saints still played some good stuff at times and fully deserved their win. Dean Hammond can count himself unlucky at being dropped after a good performance against Portsmouth, but I thought the introduction of Steve De Ridder gave us a lot more balance. Nigel Adkins spoke of his desire to see De Ridder improve on the defensive side of the game earlier in the season, and based on today's performance he's clearly listened to those words. De Ridder worked incredibly hard for the team, and is now finally ready for an extended run in the team in the absence of Richard Chaplow. It also meant Morgan Schneiderlin was back in the middle of the park, where he was far more effective. Jos Hooiveld also deserves a mention for another fine display. The defence is now looking as strong as it has all season, and Hooiveld's form is a big contributing factor. It was also nice to see Guly in amongst the goals today after he was heavily criticised following the Pompey game. There's no doubt the Brazilian was below par at Fratton Park, but some of the criticism was over the top. He's contributed massively to our great form this season, and will no doubt continue too. The rest of his teammates looked so pleased for him today, which shows how great the spirit in the camp is at the moment.

Attendance: 31,524 (2786 Palace fans)

Davis: 7. Had little to do for most of the afternoon

Richardson: 6. Looked lethargic at times, and gave the ball away too many times. Got stronger as the game wore on however and put the cross in for the second goal

Fonte: 7. One wayward first half pass aside, a very good performance against his former club.

Hooiveld: 8. Got outpaced by Sean Scannell on one occasion, but was otherwise superb. Always in the right position, with some perfectly timed tackles. Also did well bringing the ball out from the back

Fox: 7. Made a number of important defensive headers, and also some good forward runs

De Ridder: 8. Best all round display in a Saints shirt without doubt. Crossing was hit and miss, but his quick feet caused Palace problems all day, and opened up some much needed space. Also tracked back and defended, which he didn't always do early in the season. Made one perfectly timed sliding tackle on Scannell in the first half that prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity.

Cork: 7. Involved in some good build up play with neat short passing.

Schneiderlin: 7. Looked slightly sluggish early on, but improved massively in the second half, breaking up play and starting attacks from midfield

Lallana: 7. Always buzzing in and around the opposition's penalty area, although his end product was somewhat lacking today.

Guly: 8. Movement and passing first class as always. Capped a wonderful display off with two headed goals.

Lambert: 6. Surprisingly quiet today. Didn't see too much of the ball, but usually looked useful on the occasions he did get it.

Substitutes:

Connolly: Not really anything of note to mention, but it's a real boost to have such a good player back.

Hammond: Some decent touches of the ball in the closing stages.