Some 446 days after the trauma of Euro 2016, when he was left grey with despair and humiliation by England’s defeat to Iceland, management continues to be a bruising experience for Roy Hodgson.
This was meant to be his glorious homecoming, the son of a Croydon bus driver returning to his boyhood club and immediately kick-starting a recovering campaign. Instead it ended in Crystal Palace becoming the first the club in top-flight history to lose their opening five league games without scoring.
These things take time of course and having replaced Frank de Boer after his 77-day tenure in charge of Palace, Hodgson could take some encouragement from the endeavour that the side he watched as a teenager from the Holmesdale End and played for at trainee level displayed here. They also created enough chances to equalise following Steven Davis’s early goal for Southampton only to be denied by a mixture of bad luck and Fraser Forster’s reflexes, but overall there was also a lack of quality from the hosts. They also look short of confidence, something that will not be helped by this result and ahead of a daunting set of league fixtures – successive away trips to the Manchester clubs followed by a visit from Chelsea.
For Southampton this was a much needed victory after their disappointing home defeat to Watford last week. It was also a deserved one for Mauricio Pellegrino’s side who were played with assurance and togetherness for the bulk of the contest. For the visiting fans there was also the welcome sight of Virgil van Dijk coming on as a late substitute following his failed attempt to leave the club in the summer.
Hodgson was met by warm applause from the home supporters as he made his way to the dugout prior to kickoff and the smile he flashed back in their direction showed he was glad to be back in these parts.
The team he put out lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, a textbook Hodgson shape, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, back from injury and the only change to the team that lost at Turf Moor last Sunday in De Boer’s final game in charge, playing in support of lone striker Christian Benteke. And they began brightly against a Southampton team containing four changes to that which lost to Watford seven days ago.
But the visitors soon found their footing and took the lead. Six minutes had been played when Davis slid a pass into the inside-right channel of the hosts’ area which Cédric Soares collected and, having manoeuvred past Palace’s left-back Jeffrey Schlupp, redirected towards the six-yard area. Wayne Hennessey, the Palace keeper, was able to parry the cross away but only as far as Davis who, having continued to run forward, calmly steered the ball into the far corner of the net. The goal was only Southampton’s second from open play this season and came on Davis’s 200th appearance in all competitions for the club.
It was a terrible start for Palace’s latest manager and things did not get immediately better for him as Southampton began to dominate possession and territory. The visitors were also taking full advantage of the width of the pitch, with Soares proving a particular nuisance with his advancing runs from right-back. The Portuguese was regularly getting beyond Schlupp and as he did so the audible frustration of the majority of those in attendance grew.
To their credit Palace did not cave in and on 15 minutes thought they had equalised when Loftus-Cheek drove into the area and sent a cross towards Benteke who from six yards out could only look on in disbelief as Fraser Forster kept out his first-time shot via an excellent reaction save.
The pressure continued from those in red and blue and in particular from Loftus-Cheek, who appeared to be on a one-man mission to get Palace back into this contest. Twice in a matter of minutes the 21-year-old fired attempts at goal and in general was causing Southampton concern with his powerful and direct approach. But the visitors stood firm, maintained their poise, and went into the break ahead.
But that lead was almost wiped out immediately after play restarted. First, on 48 minutes, Loftus-Cheek once again powered into the area only to see his teasing cross missed by a number of Palace players as an open net beckoned and then, a minute later, Jason Puncheon’s slid on to Schlupp’s low delivery and sent a low shot towards goal which someone Forster kept out with another superb reaction save.
The volume rose and it appeared only a matter of time before the hosts restored parity. Instead, however, Southampton resumed control of proceedings, using the ball efficiently and in Mario Lemina possessing a player who increasingly asserted himself on proceedings. The Gabon midfielder used his muscular frame to regularly seize possession and power up the pitch in order to get his side on the front foot.
Hodgson brought Luka Milivojevic on for James McAthur on 68 minutes and 10 minutes made another substitution and one which brought boos from the home crowd. Little wonder given the manager took off Palace’s most impressive performer in Loftus-Cheek in order to throw on Bakary Sako. And to add to the hosts’ misery amid the south London showers, the change coincided with Palace becoming the owners of an unwarranted record – the longest run without a goal from the start of a Premier League campaign; 439 minutes. It was a run that would continue until the final whistle. Welcome back, Roy.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010