|So, the start of another season, only this time with the complete absence of any fans, which is exactly how last season finished under the shadow of the global coronavirus pandemic. The Premier League are hoping that fans will be able to start returning to watch games in October, but how realistic that is remains to be seen, with the rapid rise in cases over the last couple of weeks.
As for this game, Saints went into it full of confidence after the positive way they finished last season during the Project Restart run of nine games, which ended back in July. The only blip was the return of Stuart Armstrong from international duty with Scotland carrying an injury, causing him to miss this game. His place in the team was taken by Will Smallbone. On the bench as the reserve keeper was Fraser Forster, back from his successful loan spell in Scotland with Celtic. Other than that, this was very much the squad that finished last season on such a high.
As any Saints fan will tell you, there is a long history of the club starting the season slowly and featuring an opening day disappointment. This game turned out to be in much the same vein, as they dominated possession, found the opposition keeper having a blinder of a game got caught on the break once. Watching this ultimately frustrating game, it rammed home to me how important Armstrong is to the way we play now and the breakaway goal is the risk you run when the two full backs play so high up the field.
James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings closely attending Wilfred Zaha, scorer of the games solitary goal
IBO Reporter : channonite
|After a great run of results in the 'Project Restart', hopes were raised amongst fans that this season would be the one where we saw a fast start, with a decent haul of points on the board to begin with. There would be no chasing our tails this year. Ha! Fat chance.
The warning sign was there in the days leading up to the game, with Stuart Armstrong, a key catalyst in Saints performances in the tail end of the 2019-20 season, returning injured from International duty with Scotland. Ralph was not amused. The team started and finished the game brightly enough, but it was not to be. Not even a consolation point.
After a starting few minutes of constant pressure from Saints, they were caught on the break by Palace with Andros Townsend steaming down the right wing and crossing to the completely unmarked Zaha, who was wide of the far post. McCarthy was at the other side of the goal and could only watch as the ball was guided into the net. 1-0 and only 13 minutes gone. Easy.
I didn't get too wound up, as this is an occupational hazard with the way Saints play. When the goal was scored, both our full backs/wing backs were right up the other end of the pitch. It was basically Stephens and Bednarek trying to cover Townsend on the right, Zaha on the left and Ayew in the middle. Meanwhile Romeu was vainly trying to catch Townsend. It was always going to end in tears.
Whatever you think of Roy Hodgson, he had set his team up to capitalise on Saints high pressing and we very nearly were undone a few minutes later when Ayew, Kouyaté and Dann were almost clean through again, but the offside flag was up immediately.
The rest of the half was just plain forgettable, with only the dreadful BT commentary team to focus on.
So, 1-0 at half-time and it wasn't going that well. When the game restarted we saw that Vestergaard had replaced Bednarek, which was a bit of a surprise, as there was no indiction that the Pole was injured.
The away team began to get back into the game, showing a much higher tempo than in the first 45', without ever looking really convincing. A combination of Ings, Adams and finally Redmond then brought the first real save of the match from Guaita in the Palace goal. Unfortunately it wasn't struck with much power and was a routine save for the keeper.
Then came the most noteworthy incident of the match, when Mitchell and Walker-Peters clashed in the centre circle going for a high ball. Both had their feet raised and one of my least favourite referees immediately showed the Saints player a straight red. To Moss's credit he then walked to the sidelines and reviewed the incident on the pitch side monitor. Walking back to Walker-Peters, he indicated that he was rescinding the red and instead issuing a yellow. That is how VAR should be used.
Then came the moment when Saints should have scored the equaliser. A free kick, just inside the Palace half was lofted in by Bertrand to just beyond the far post, where Vestergaard rose above everyone to nod it down to Adams. The shot from the Saints No. 10 was amazingly saved low down, right on the line. He couldn't have had much time to react, as Adams was standing close in, right in front of the goal. Brilliant goalkeeping, dammit!
Smallbone was then replaced with Djenepo, with the Englishman having a decent enough game, but unable to impose himself on the game as Armstrong would have undoubtably done. Djenepo unfortunately is nowhere near match fit and it showed.
Palace for a few seconds thought that they had scored a second, when a long ball over the top found Zaha and Ayew racing forwards, with the ball falling to the lanky Palace No.11 who placed his shot beyond the advancing McCarthy and wheeled away celebrating, as he thought, his second goal of the game. It was then he noticed the linesman flagging for offside. Shame. Still 1-0.
With five minutes of normal time left Adams was replaced by Shane Long, to try and inject pair of fresh legs and liven things up.
There was more entertainment to come from Zaha though. He raced past Stephens and was bearing down on goal for what must be another uncontested goal, when for some inexplicable reason he shoots into the side netting. That was a lucky escape. Still 1-0.
With two minutes left on the clock came the best chance of the afternoon, when Walker-Peters motored down the right wing and sent a teasing shot across the face of the goal, where an onrushing Danny Ings headed towards the goal. Somehow that man Guaita managed to somehow palm it away. Not only that but there was no other Saints player nearby to take advantage and the ball was ushered gratefully away by a Palace defender.
Sometimes you just have to accept that it is not your day. Saints certainly deserved to come away with a point, if not all three, but Palace are the sort of side that you need to be beating if you have any serious ambitions of a better than top 10 finish.
Next up is the League Cup at St.Mary's against Brentford, who are no pushover, having come agonisingly close to promotion from the Championship to the Premier League last season.
Man of the Match
Really I don't know, but on the basis that he kept catching my eye with some great crosses into the danger area, I guess I will give it to Kyle Walker-Peters, although honourable mention should be given to Vestergaard for not being the defensive liability of past matches and being a decent aerial threat up at the other end