In Roy Hodgson’s first game as manager, Crystal Palace were looking to pick up their first points (and goal) of the season, rooted to the bottom of the Premier League after four games. The visitors, Southampton, had had their own poor start to the season to the season and came to Selhurst Park looking for their first victory in three games.
Palace were without key man Wilfried Zaha, who has been injured since the opening game of the season and new signing Mamadou Sakho was also out due to a lack of match fitness. Ruben Loftus Cheek was the only change to the side that lost at Burnley last weekend, and the Chelsea loanee was greatly welcomed back into a side lacking creativity. Despite his recent woeful form, captain Jason Puncheon started on the left side of midfield.
Southampton opted with Irishman Shane Long up front over Manolo Gabbiadini, who started on the bench. Following months of speculation regarding his future, Virgil van Dijk was named on the Saints bench, and Dusan Tadic was recalled to the starting line-up having been benched in the previous game at Vicarage Road.
Worst Possible Start
Optimism regarding Hodgson’s first game at the club surrounded Selhurst Park prior to the game and as the game kicked off it was clear that the Eagles would be adopting a more defensive approach with two banks of four behind Ruben Loftus Cheek and Christian Benteke. However, just six minutes into the game, the visitors were 1-0 up after Tadic found room in behind left-back Jeffrey Schlupp. The winger took on his man before his cross was pushed away by goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, only to fall to midfielder Steven Davis to score his first goal for Southampton in 489 days.
This was the worst possible start for the Eagles who looked to get back into the game instantly. 12 minutes later, a Loftus Cheek cutback found Benteke, whose first time effort was brilliantly saved by Fraser Forster. Loftus Cheek was a constant threat throughout the first half and his shot was deflected wide by left-back Ryan Bertrand in the latter stages of the half.
The Saints ended the half in the lead and with a far greater percentage of possession. The Eagles went into half-time frustrated that they found themselves trailing once again in the Premier League.
As the second half began, the home side came flying out the traps, chasing a way back into the game. They applied more pressure to the visitors’ back line and after the ball was whipped into the box, Jason Puncheon’s first-time effort was fantastically saved once again by Forster.
Following a ten-minute spell of positivity from the home side, however, the Saints regained full control of the game, comfortably stroking the ball around the pitch with Palace struggling to break through. Their chances of a goal considerably weakened with ten minutes left as Loftus Cheek was substituted. Joel Ward’s attempted cross late on summed up the game for the home side, with the ball landing in the Holmesdale Road stand behind the goal.
As the full-time whistle rang out, that familiar feeling of defeat surrounded Selhurst Park. Roy Hodgson walked towards the tunnel knowing that hard work was needed for the club to turn around this shocking start to the campaign.
The Eagles have now become the only side in Premier League history to lose their first five games of the season having not scored a single goal. Furthermore, Palace have failed to find the net for six consecutive league matches for the first time since 1995..
Palace now face a very difficult run of games with back-to-back away games at Manchester City and Manchester United before a home game against champions Chelsea on October the 14th. Key men Zaha and Sakho will need to be back sooner rather than later with the Eagles already finding themselves rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. This may well turn out to be Hodgson’s toughest task yet as a football manager.
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