1318: Premiership: Southampton vs Cr
by : Colin Illingworth
Another week, another relegation six pointer in the Premiership. This weekend Southampton play host to Iain Dowie’s Crystal Palace knowing the loser will be sucked right back into the relegation dogfight.
The Saints looked to have turned the corner after beating South coast rivals Portsmouth 2-1 following their humiliating Carling Cup exit at the hands of Watford 5-2, but last Saturday’s defeat at the winless Norwich has dragged them back into the thick of things. The natives are getting restless down South and defeat against Palace will intensify the pressure on chairman Rupert Lowe and Steve Wigley.
Crystal Palace have adapted back to life in the Premiership admirably and recent form has suggested that they could defy all the odds and retain their top-flight status. They’ve lost their last two games against established Premiership sides in Liverpool and Newcastle but it’s against fellow strugglers, like Southampton, where the Eagles need to pick up points. In the last five matches they have picked up seven points with wins over West Brom and Birmingham, and a battling draw against Arsenal, but it will be interesting to see if Palace have the bouncebackability their gaffer so famously talks about.
Southampton made a terrible start to the season but in their last five games they’ve only lost to Norwich and were minutes away from beating the champions Arsenal. It’s taken a while but Steve Wigley, although not looking entirely comfortable in his position at St Mary’s, he looks to be moving the club in the right direction. However all this good work will be forgotten about if Palace knock up the Saints eight defeat of the season.
Southampton go into the match though as favourites. They have never lost to Crystal Palace in the Premiership and you have to go back to 1997 for the last time they played each other. The Saints have only won two games all season, both at St Mary’s, while Palace have only picked up five points on their travels. The last time Palace beat Southampton was 12 years ago at the famous Dell when Eddie McGoldrick and John Salako sealed victory and their last league victory was a year earlier when they ran out 1-0 winners. Their first ever match in the Premiership ended in a 2-1 win for the Saints at Selhurst Park.
Victory for either side will see them leapfrog Spurs, albeit for 24 hours as they play Boro on Sunday, and possibly Birmingham if they fail to beat Norwich City, so the incentive to win and enter the comfort zone for a week or so is there for the taking. However, looking at the next three games for Southampton it is imperative that they pick up points with Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Tottenham waiting in line. Iain Dowie has an easier looking future with games against Charlton, Blackburn and Manchester United coming up but he will not settle for anything less than 100% from his players.
Dowie has a match winner in Andy Johnson, the Premierships top English goal scorer, and the on loan Kasey Keller, still deputising for the injured Anti Niemi, will have to be on form to keep the hotshot out.
On paper Southampton have much the better squad but, as the old saying goes, football is played on grass, not paper. Desire and determination to win is what it will all boil down to and with Dowie’s excellent motivational skills they should leave St Mary’s with something.