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Match Analysis: Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Southampton's narrow 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at St Mary's.

Southampton breathed new life into their Champions League dreams with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at St Mary's this evening.

After a dull opening 45 minutes, the match came to life in the second half and Palace were inches away from breaking the deadlock when Wilfried Zaha struck the post.

It was the hosts who would get the only goal of the game, however, clinching all three points seven minutes from time when Sadio Mane pounced on a goalkeeping error to chip home from close range.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at whether the Saints were worthy of the win.

Match statistics

SOUTHAMPTON
Shots: 23
On target: 3
Possession: 62%
Corners: 10
Fouls: 11

CRYSTAL PALACE
Shots: 9
On target: 3
Possession: 38%
Corners: 2
Fouls: 10

Was the result fair?

This match was a tough one to call before kickoff, and it proved to be a tight affair which, in truth, could have gone either way. The first half was one of the poorest of the Premier League season so far, with both sides lacking quality in the final third and only one real chance being created when Graziano Pelle failed to sweep home a rebound from close range. Aside from that, there was very little to shout about before the break.

Things improved after the interval, however, and both sides began to show a little more intent and urgency in the opposition half. Palace had a few really good spells in which they looked like scoring, and things may have turned out very differently had Zaha's effort gone in instead of hitting the post. Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie also tested Fraser Forster during that period as Palace pushed for a lead that they could then defend.

Southampton responded, though, and began to mount their own pressure. Their 62% possession is not an accurate reader of how this match went as they struggled to do anything with a lot of it, but they began to create a couple of chances after the break - including a sitter for Maya Yoshida. It was by no means a classic match and Palace may feel that they were worthy of a draw. That certainly wouldn't have been an unfair result, but if either side deserved to win then it was probably Southampton.

Southampton's performance

The Saints were a million miles from the free-flowing, confident outfit that we have seen for much of the season, but the most important thing tonight was getting the result. They have been on a poor run lately and, coupled with those around them hitting form, victory tonight was vital if they were to hang on to their Champions League ambitions. They got the three points, but it was an ugly win from Ronald Koeman's men.

They were poor in the first half, giving the ball away far too often in the opposition half and failing to create a decent chance despite all their possession - Pelle's opening coming via a rebound. It was slow, laboured and had all the hallmarks of a team sorely lacking in confidence following their recent dry spell in front of goal. Pelle in particular looked like a shadow of the player who dominated defences earlier in the campaign.

They were then forced to weather an early storm in the second half, but as the game became a little more open they started to look more threatening. They by no means peppered Julian Speroni's goal with shots, and their tally of 23 efforts is misleading, but the introductions of Dusan Tadic and Shane Long did provide a little extra spark in the final third. They eventually got a goal that could prove priceless as it moves them temporarily back up to fifth as well as ending their drought. In short, a pretty poor performance, but just about good enough on the night.

Crystal Palace's performance

There were no surprises when it came to Palace's gameplan. Alan Pardew has enjoyed great success with the club away from home during his short tenure so far, and once again he looked to make his side tight at the back first and foremost. He certainly achieved that, with Southampton unable to trouble the Eagles for long spells despite seeing the vast majority of the ball.

With the pace of Bolasie and Zaha, Palace are always a danger on the break. Their threat from set pieces also plays nicely into their away-day plans, and it almost worked yet again this evening as they piled the pressure on in the opening stages of the second half. Forster was forced into a couple of smart saves, while Zaha was unfortunate to hit the post with a good effort moments after Bolasie had also come close.

In the end, it was only an error from Speroni that allowed Southampton to break through Palace, who could make a strong claim that they were worthy of a point here. There was a sense for large periods of the game that they would be happy with a goalless draw, however, and that came back to bite them in the end. Even so, the defeat is not catastrophic for Pardew and he will take positives from how his side defended for the majority of the match.

Sports Mole's man of the match

Sadio Mane: It was slim pickings for this award tonight, with no player really standing head and shoulders above the rest. Mane was the most threatening Southampton player for much of the game, however, and eventually proved to be the difference with a poacher's finish inside the box.

Biggest gaffe

Forster almost dropped a clanger in the first half but recovered just in time, while Pelle and Yoshida deserve mentions for both missing good chances. However, the most costly error of the game came from Speroni as he spilled a tame James Ward-Prowse strike right at the feet of Mane, who gleefully accepted the gift to score a late winner.

Referee performance

Martin Atkinson had a quiet game this evening, producing his yellow card on just two occasions. He got the odd decision wrong around the field, but there were no major calls for him to make tonight.

What next?

Southampton: The Saints face arguably the toughest assignment in the division next up as they take on leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 12 days' time.

Crystal Palace: The Eagles have an 11-day rest themselves before hosting Queens Park Rangers in a London derby at Selhurst Park.

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Ronald Koeman manager of Southampton looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on November 8, 2014
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1Manchester CityMan City27205256173965
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11Leeds UnitedLeeds26112134344-135
12Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2797112837-934
13Crystal Palace2797112943-1434
14Southampton2796123344-1133
15Burnley2879122036-1630
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton26511102633-726
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