Southampton: Luka Milivojevic’s 2018 began rather better than his 2017 ended: on New Year’s Eve he cost Crystal Palace a victory by missing a penalty against Manchester City but 48 hours later he sealed three points with a beautiful late winner at Southampton.
Ralph Kreuger, the Southampton chairman, backed Mauricio Pellegrino this week but the manager’s prospects looked as dark as the weather after this defeat, with the home crowd losing what little patience remained as Saints were beaten despite taking the lead through Shane Long’s first goal in nearly a year. James McArthur equalised, before Milivojevic’s delicate shot from the edge of the box earned Palace the points.
Roy Hodgson expressed pleasure with Palace’s form. “For any team in this league, if you can look back on 11 games and the only one you’ve lost is to Arsenal, that’s very satisfying,” he said. “When you start as badly as we did, there’s only as many blows you can take. After seven games we were pretty much on the canvas.”
They are up and punching now. This victory provided a handy marker for how far Palace have come under Hodgson. His first game in charge was against Southampton at home in September, when a Steven Davis goal condemned them to their fifth straight defeat without scoring a goal. Now they are 14th and, while in no way safe, things are looking up.
The same cannot be said for Southampton. Palace have gained 11 points from losing positions since Hodgson arrived but in the same time Pellegrino’s side have dropped nine after being in front. The way they folded after the break would be even more concerning if it was surprising, but that has been a feature of their play under the Argentinian.
“In the second-half we gave them the possibility to be in the game,” Pellegrino said. “We played five metres deeper — I think it’s the lack of confidence in the players. We didn’t have the intention to go forwards, we just had the intention to pass the time.”
He was asked whether he feared for his job. “I feel fear for other things, not football. I’m disappointed that we lost but not fear.”
It was looking pretty good for a while. That Long was the scorer of Southampton’s opener suggested it might be their night. This is not to unfairly question the striker’s abilities but it was his first competitive goal since 11 February last year, thumping Jeremy Pied’s low cross into the bottom corner with the certainty one does not associate with a player who had not scored for 324 days.
As the rain, wind and an already choppy pitch worsened, the visitors improved. Palace, playing their third game in six days and 48 hours after that exhilarating, exhausting performance against City, grew in confidence and endeavour and they equalised after 69 minutes, although the goal probably should not have stood. Andros Townsend clipped a nice cross into the middle, where Christian Benteke was half a yard offside as he knocked it down, but the linesman stayed still as McArthur hammered the ball into the roof of the net.
Pellegrino made attacking changes, bringing on Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond but it was Palace who scored next. Townsend and the substitute Bakary Sako combined nicely on the right, the former slid a pass to Milivojevic on the edge of the area and he measured a delicate finish into the bottom corner.
Boos rang out and both sets of fans sang that Pellegrino would not be Saints manager for much longer. They might be right.