Review by William George Eldridge
The team from South Norwood welcomed Southampton in an early December clash, where despite the copious amount of talent available on the Selhurst stage, it was the two goalkeepers who stole the early Christmas show. Despite both keepers starting the season as understudies, they both emerged with a performance of the highest quality, with ultimately, the Palace keeper stealing the show at the final curtain.
Prior to the game, Southampton had been almost greedy with the amount of points they had taken off Crystal Palace in recent years. In fact, Palace had failed to record a victory in a poor run of 13 league matches against the Saints, and with that entwined with Alan Pardew having a successive home game against an old employer (a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle), everyone was pleading for a change of fortunes.
As the teams entered the pitch to the predictable, yet charmingly stimulating ‘Glad All Over’, it was seemingly impossible to predict the outcome of the game. Unpredictability seemed to be the early theme of the afternoon as the Crystal Palace manager took a turn away from the manager’s touchline area and approached the far side of the Holmesdale Lower tier to congratulate the forever passionate Holmesdale Fanatics on reaching their 10 year anniversary. A group constructed of fiery football romantics; they have ensured that the last decade has been the loudest, proudest and most memorable for all those involved with The Eagles and Pardew’s applause was just a small gesture to those who call his name in such heroic fashion.
With the whistle blown, the match was begun. It took minutes for the first spectacular moment from a goalkeeper, with Southampton’s stand in No.25 Paulo Gazzaniga starting the match in blistering form. A long curling shot from Yannick Bolasie seemed to be caught by the wind as it sped rapidly towards the top right corner of the goal, only for Gazzaniga to stretch his fingers to tip the shot over the bar. What followed were endless corners from Palace, one of which was drilled in towards Connor Wickham, whose header was blocked on the line by the keeper once more.
After a period of play dominated by the home side, it took a short while for the Saints to get up and running, but when they did they were unlucky not to take the lead. The Welsh number one Wayne Hennessey was on hand to deny Steven Davis’ close range header, with a terrific diving reach to block the Northern Irishman’s header which was destined to hit the top corner.
As the game progressed the deadlock was finally broken, and it was the home side which managed to edge into the lead. Wilfred Zaha, back from suspension after missing the 1-1 draw away to Everton, held up the ball and played through Bolasie on the wing. The DR Congo international skipped past ex Palace man Jose Fonte and passed across the six yard box, where Yohan Cabaye was perfectly situated to place the ball into the back of the net. After many attempts, finally Paulo Gazzaniga was beaten.
Net burst, stands erupt, game ignites.
Half time arrives and all bar the away travellers are in festive mood, but no one naïve enough to think the job was anywhere near accomplished.
The second half started with a dominance of Southampton pressure, but with no real chances endangering the Palace goal. As the half developed, the home side managed to gain more control of the ball, with both Zaha and Bolasie continuously penetrating the Saints defence, with the latter displaying a painfully direct run into the box, but ultimately to no avail.
A spectacular through ball to Connor Wickham allowed the former Sunderland man to strike low and hard towards the visitors net, only once again to be denied by the dazzling Gazzaniga. Wickham, although still searching for his first goal for Crystal Palace since his summer move, was yet again providing a performance evidential of excellent hold up play, strength and striking ability.
With time running out, there was time for one more chance. A through ball to Southampton’s Shane Long, found the little Irishman up against the formidable Welsh wonder, Wayne Hennessey. Crystal Palace fans can be forgiven for expecting the worst, with the poor record against the Saints still sitting comfortably in the forefront of their minds. Hennessey had different ideas however, and managed to get his body in the way of Long’s strike and save the shot, the hearts of the Selhurst faithful, but most importantly, the game.
The final whistle blew. A tough match, with a goal from a classy Frenchman shown on paper, but to all those in attendance, a match dominated by two fantastic goalkeeping performances.
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