Crystal Palace climbed back into sixth place in the Premier League with a comfortable 1-0 defeat of Southampton.
In the latest demonstration that European football is not beyond them, they outplayed their similarly ambitious rivals and secured victory with a goal from Yohan Cabaye, their £10million record signing.
Injuries forced manager Ronald Koeman to make further changes to his already out-of-form Southampton side. A toe injury suffered on Thursday by goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg led to a rare start for Paulo Gazzaniga, while owing to what Koeman described as “knee problems”, Graziano Pelle was named as a substitute, with Shane Long starting in his place.
Perhaps sensing his team therefore lacked the ability to compete with Palace in the attacking way Koeman generally prefers, James Ward-Prowse was dropped for Oriol Romeu, whose appearance in the same midfield as defender Ryan Bertrand gave Southampton an unusually-defensive appearance.
With Wilfried Zaha again available following suspension and Mile Jedinak, his replacement on Monday at Everton, injured, Palace manager Alan Pardew recalled the forward to his starting XI and encouraged his team to attack.
It took 20 minutes before they threatened, however, but as soon as they did the pressure on Southampton was intense. Yannick Bolasie’s inswinging cross-come-shot forced a corner when Gazzaniga tipped the ball over the crossbar, and from it Cabaye tested the goalkeeper with a powerful near-post shot that earned a second corner.
On this occasion the Frenchman crossed to Connor Wickham, whose header was saved by Gazzaniga before being scrambled clear, and with their next attack almost immediately after Cabaye played Zaha into space in the area, from where the forward disappointingly struck just over.
Southampton’s first notable attack soon followed. On the counter, Sadio Mane’s lofted pass gave Long time and space and the Irishman, beating goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, went even closer than Cabaye had when he cut in from the left and curled a right-footed shot just inches high and wide.
Hennessey then impressed with a reaction save from Steven Davis’ close-range header after the visitors’ next attempt on goal, before Palace responded by scoring in the 38th minute.
On the right wing by Southampton’s penalty area, the again-impressive Bolasie defeated Southampton’s defence and Gazzaniga with a low cut-back to Cabaye that gifted the Frenchman a close-range tap-in into a near-open goal.
It was the lead the home side deserved – created by players of the quality not seen at Selhurst Park until recent seasons – and in a sign of their confidence they sought a second after half-time.
Despite sufficient possession in the final third, it took until the 78th minute for Palace to again look like scoring. Again it was Bolasie’s creativity which provided the goalscoring chance, and again Zaha, with both time and space – similarly to his first-half effort when he also should have hit the target – struck beyond the bar.
Pardew would only have been more satisfied had Wickham’s powerful, close-range shot not been saved by Gazzaniga when just three minutes remained, though he will reflect his team also owe Hennessey for producing a crucial save from Long when the forward was through on goal deep into stoppage time.