Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew ends goal drought to deny Southampton victory

Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew ends goal drought to deny Southampton victory

Even for a team as unpredictable as Southampton have been under Ralph Hasenhüttl, it is turning into a funny old season. Having fallen behind to Wilfried Zaha’s early goal and looking destined for a second defeat of the week in London, a brilliant free-kick from James Ward-Prowse and a fine Armando Broja drive had given the Austrian’s side hope of ending a run of six matches without a victory.

But they were eventually denied as Jordan Ayew’s first goal in 44 matches earned a point for Crystal Palace from a performance that left manager Patrick Vieira frustrated at his side’s lapses of concentration in the first half. For Hasenhüttl, at least this was another valuable point that leaves them clear of the relegation zone for now but with plenty of reasons to still be looking over their shoulders having lost 16 points from winning positions. “We know that it’s tough for us but this is the Premier League and you have to concentrate until the end,” he admitted.

The Southampton manager had urged his players to show their nasty side after the defeat against Arsenal. But they found themselves behind inside 120 seconds thanks to an excellent piece of anticipation from Will Hughes. Still only 26, the former Derby and Watford midfielder has had to be patient for his opportunity under Vieira having made only his first league start at the weekend after joining on a free transfer in the summer. But he was quick to pounce when Southampton dawdled in midfield, allowing Odsonne Édouard to feed Zaha. The Ivory Coast forward made no mistake with a powerful shot past Willy Caballero.

All the talk beforehand had concerned the goalkeepers, with the 40-year-old Southampton stand-in continuing to deputise for the injured Fraser Forster and Alex McCarthy. Vieira sprung a surprise by handing Jack Butland only his second Premier League start since joining from Stoke in October 2020, replacing Vicente Guaita. The Spaniard was named on the bench despite a finger injury.

After the shock of Zaha’s early strike, Southampton only just avoided falling further behind as a revved-up Palace smelled blood. James Tomkins almost made it two goals in four days but was denied by Caballero following a free-kick before Édouard was somehow off target from Zaha’s whipped cross from the left flank.

Luckily for Hasenhüttl, he can always rely on Ward-Prowse’s free-kicks. The home crowd were incensed by the decision to award a foul against Hughes after replays showed that there had been no contact on Broja and it felt almost inevitable that the Southampton captain would curl the set piece past Butland’s despairing fingertips from 25 yards out. His 11th free-kick goal in the Premier League took him to fourth on the all-time list, only seven behind David Beckham’s record. “I had a good feeling,” said Ward-Prowse.

It got even better for Southampton four minutes later when Broja slammed a shot into the net from almost exactly the same spot after Conor Gallagher was dispossessed. The on-loan Chelsea striker angered the Palace supporters in one corner by celebrating wildly in front of them.

The referee, Simon Hooper, was hardly the most popular figure either as the sides left the pitch for half-time, although Palace’s players must have wondered how they had fallen behind in a game they were dominating. “We needed to wake up and match their level,” admitted Vieira. “We scored the first goal and then completely stopped playing.”

They emerged after the break with renewed vigour and could have found themselves level had Zaha managed to pick out the unmarked Édouard. With Gallagher looking increasingly menacing after a quiet first half Southampton were indebted to Caballero for denying Édouard twice, the second time with an outstretched arm from a tight angle. Vieira turned to Christian Benteke as the clock ticked past the hour mark but it was Ayew who found the breakthrough when he was quickest to react after Caballero had saved Édouard’s close-range effort. The Ghana forward celebrated like you would expect of a player who has waited more than a year for the privilege.

Both sides pushed forward in an attempt to take all three points and Palace seemed more likely to find the winning goal. Caballero proved up to the test when a deep cross from the substitute Michael Olise threatened to sail over his head but the chance eventually fell to Joel Ward, with the Palace captain’s shot still rising as it flew into the stands.

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