Saints late show stuns Palace
By Mark Kendall
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Southampton claimed a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace with a last-gasp equaliser.Southampton claimed what could be a crucial 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace with a last-gasp equaliser from Danny Higginbotham.
The Eagles seemed set for three valuable points courtesy of Nicola Ventola's second half strike, but Higginbotham popped up in the third minute of injury time to ensure the spoils were shared in a game that saw both sides end with ten men.
Fitz Hall and Peter Crouch scored within a minute of each other to send the teams in level at the break, but Crouch and Gonzalo Sorondo received their marching orders early in the second period after a confrontation that saw both sets of players square up to each other.
However, it was the dramatic climax that will live long in the memory and leaves both sides waiting to discover their destiny on the final day.
The game started in predictably tense fashion with both sides finding it difficult to maintain possession for any length of time.
Indeed, it was not until the quarter-hour mark that the first effort of note arrived and Tom Soares' shot, following a cute lay-off from Michael Hughes, lacked sufficient power to test Antti Niemi.
Southampton were marginally on top in the midfield skirmishes that dominated the game but chances continued to be at the very highest of premiums.
Many of Palace's pre-match hopes had inevitably fallen on the shoulders of 20-goal top scorer Andrew Johnson, but - well shackled by a determined Saints rearguard - his first contribution was to be booked on 20 minutes for a clumsy foul on Matthew Oakley.
Wayne Routledge eventually warmed Niemi's hands with a shot from distance after a free kick routine had failed but, in the main, both goalkeepers continued to be underemployed spectators.
However, quite out of the blue, that all changed on 34 minutes when the hosts edged ahead, although it took a set-piece to help break the deadlock.
Hughes' chipped free kick into the visitors' box was only half-cleared and, after Johnson failed to latch on to it, Hall slid in and fired into the bottom corner with an excellent effort on the turn.
The lead lasted all of 60 seconds, though, as Saints found an instant response.
Just ten seconds after the restart Henri Camara broke into the Palace box and was prevented from cutting inside Tony Popovic by what referee Howard Webb saw as a handball. Palace protests fell on deaf ears and Crouch showed admirable cool to convert the resulting penalty low to Gabor Kiraly's right.
Palace almost stole back ahead when an inswinging Hughes corner from the right deceived Niemi and clipped the top of the bar before bouncing to safety, and Niemi did make a fine save from the same player from distance on the stroke of half time to ensure the teams went in level.
The second half started in similar fashion with midfield industry the most apparent factor on display.
Soares threatened with yet another effort from range that flew narrowly wide on 55 minutes, but just three minutes later an increasingly tight affair took a crucial turn.
Following what appeared a rather innocuous scuffle between Sorondo and Crouch after the pair contested a header from a throw-in, referee Webb took advice from his linesman and opted to send the pair off.
The match opened up a little as a result, and Aki Riihilahti missed a chance to restore Palace's advantage almost instantly by firing high and wide after latching on to Johnson's ball.
The hosts did find a way through on 72 minutes, although it owed a great deal to the defensive frailities that have haunted Southampton in recent weeks.
A long ball from Mikele Leigertwood seemed to offer little danger, but the visiting defence opted to push up looking for an offside flag that never arrived allowing substitute Ventola time to control and slot past the unprotected Niemi.
Palace looked to preserve what they had and even began taking the ball towards the corner flag with almost ten minutes still remaining, but the plan seemed to have worked as the match entered the four minutes of injury time.
But with the final whistle within grasp, the visitors salvaged a point with an equaliser from the most unlikely of sources.
Kevin Phillips somehow found himself time and space in the box and toed what looked a poor cross to the far post, but it fell invitingly behind Danny Granville for Higginbotham who coolly slotted home for the most dramatic of finales.
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|Crystal Palace||Team Name||Southampton|
|5||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||4|
|7||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||4|
|18||Total Fouls Conceded||19|