Saints beaten by Eze brace

2022-23/Matchdays/20230415 Saints vs Crystal Palace/MW_Southampton_CrystalPalace_130_puu7mt

Eberechi Eze’s second-half brace condemned Southampton to defeat at St Mary’s, as Roy Hodgson’s rejuvenated Crystal Palace side celebrated a third successive Premier League victory.

Saints were the better team in the first half, dominating every statistic except the one that really matters, as chances for Joe Aribo and Theo Walcott flashed high and wide.

The visitors had struggled to get to grips with their hosts, but stepped it up a notch after the interval, inspired by match-winner Eze.

The midfielder poached the all-important opener nine minutes into the second period, before settling the contest with an accurate low drive from distance.

Carlos Alcaraz twice came close to halving the deficit, including a wicked shot against the post, but Saints’ luck was out.

Rubén Sellés drafted in Aribo for his first Premier League start of 2023, replacing Mohamed Elyounoussi in the manager’s only change to his last line-up.

The Nigerian soon became the recipient of the game’s first notable chance at the end of a well-worked corner routine.

Rather than delivering the ball directly into the penalty area, James Ward-Prowse took the kick short, along the goal line for Walcott, whose lay-off was perfectly into Aribo’s path, but to his credit Jeffrey Schlupp threw himself in the way of the Saints man to make the chance a whole lot more difficult, and Aribo blazed over.

Saints had started well but did receive a timely reminder of Palace’s threat when Michael Olise raced through unopposed to round Gavin Bazunu and score, only to be denied by the offside flag.

Back came Saints through the busy Kamaldeen Sulemana, trading passes with Walcott to find space in the box, before his shot, which lacked conviction, was blocked by Joachim Andersen.

The duo combined again midway through the first period for the best chance of the half. This time Kamaldeen’s first-time pass sent Walcott surging through the inside-right channel, but again Saints could not work Palace’s stand-in stopper Sam Johnstone, as Walcott drove the ball into the side-netting from a position of promise.

Saints could be pleased with a lot of their work, making a visiting team who put five past Leeds last week look ordinary, but the Achilles heel remains scoring goals.

Sellés’s side were building up a raft of corners, experimenting with a variety of routines, but the finishing touch continued to elude them in a first period they had controlled.

With half time approaching, the manager gestured to the home fans to raise the volume inside St Mary’s and roar their team on.

But it was the visitors who turned up the heat after the interval, with Eze increasingly influential.

The midfielder is a powerful runner, and Roméo Lavia had to take a yellow card to halt him in his tracks, before Eze broke the deadlock two minutes later.

It was his initial ball out to Jordan Ayew on the left side of the penalty area that initiated the attack, from which Ayew’s cross was parried by Bazunu into the danger zone. With Eze having followed his pass, he’d timed his run perfectly to meet the loose ball with an easy finish into the unguarded net.

Sellés responded with a double substitution just after the hour, introducing Moussa Djenepo and Paul Onuachu, the latter offering a more obvious focal point, as Aribo and Walcott made way.

But within six minutes Saints were two down, as Eze drilled in a low shot from 25 yards that beat Bazunu down to his right, nestling just inside the post to leave the hosts with a mountain to climb.

To their credit, Saints never stopped searching for a way back. Alcaraz twice threatened to get one back, rattling the upright with a wonderful curling shot from distance that deserved a goal, before volleying over from eight yards when the ball just would not drop in time to make the chance easier.

Johnstone was tested when he was sent flying to his right by Armel Bella-Kotchap, who hit a thunderous shot from 30 yards, before Onuachu struggled to generate enough power to beat the keeper with a header from a high ball.

Ayew might have rounded off the scoring from Olise’s pass inside the final ten minutes, before Olise struck the post from a stoppage-time free-kick, but Palace had already done enough to take the points.