A reminder on day one that the Premier League is not only here for the flowing football and the end‑to-end attacks. Sometimes it’s about relentlessly attritional matches decided in a few key moments. Much to no one’s surprise, Crystal Palace’s first home win of the season fell into the latter category.
Wilfried Zaha’s close-range finish to end a Palace counter decided a contest of limited chances but unwavering commitment. It also featured the referee overturning his own decision: Jon Moss chose to rescind a red card shown to Kyle Walker-Peters after using the new dispensation to check his monitor, a correct decision that was even applauded by Roy Hodgson.
An adventurous Southampton side could point to two fine Vicente Guaita saves to show the fine margins of this contest, but an approach that saw them regularly station five men on the edge of the Palace penalty area ultimately came up short.
It was a 4-2-3-1 to the eye, with Danny Ings dropping off Che Adams, Nathan Redmond and the youngster William Smallbone playing narrow alongside him and all the width provided by full-backs who pretty much took up station on the 18-yard line.
It was bold and, combined with the physical intensity of Ralph Hassenhüttl’s side, it carried a threat, but it did have a flaw. With all that space left behind Ryan Bertrand and Walker-Peters, the counterattack was on from the start. Andros Townsend proved as much in the 13th minute when he marauded down the right and set up Zaha to sidefoot home at the back post.
“Actually we had expected we would get even more chances behind their back four,” Hodgson said. “Most of their possession was in front of us and we were happy to concede that. We were happy with the way we scotched that plan of theirs. We didn’t have as many chances as we would have liked, but the good thing is they didn’t either.”
Zaha scored four goals in the entirety of last season but could have had a hat-trick here as a second goal was ruled out for offside (a decision again involving VAR) and, one-on-one with Alex McCarthy, thrashed the ball into the side-netting in added time.
Hodgson was inevitably asked about his talisman remaining a Palace player at the end of this elongated transfer window. “Every window he’s made noises that he would perhaps like to play for a club that would offer him a step up‚” Hodgson replied. “He’s given us a good proportion of his career and we’re grateful for that. But for anything to happen that club has to come along and pay the market price. Till that time comes, I’m looking forward to working with Wilf.”
Southampton stuck to their guns throughout but only showed an intent to shoot during the second half. A minute after the restart Redmond should have done better than drive his shot straight into Guaita’s arms. Palace’s keeper then provided some theatrics in the 53rd minute, getting low to his right quickly to deflect an Adams volley from all of six yards out. Guaita repeated the trick with almost the last action of the game, this time turning away a cheeky low header from Ings that looked destined for the bottom corner.
“We had three good chances for the equaliser but in the end a good goalkeeper made a few good saves‚” Hassenhüttl said. He was trying to remain calm but you could tell the Austrian was frustrated by the performance, which lacked the decisiveness that characterised Southampton’s impressive form after the restart earlier this summer.
“If you don’t score then you don’t deserve anything‚” he said. “Sometimes we took too long [to shoot] and sometimes the finish wasn’t good enough.
There’s always a mixture of reasons why things happen. An opponent who defends well, you don’t pick the right tools. We had more chances to score, more possession, but in the end we weren’t good enough.”