Do not let the score-line fool you; Crystal Palace are not candidates for promotion, at least not on this performance. This may seem a strange thing to say about a team who have just run out 4-1 winners away from home against a side tipped for promotion by many, but the real story here concerns the Saint`s back-line. Never has a Southampton defence been easier to breach than yesterday, as Palace looped pass after pass over the immobile Alan Bennett`s head for their strikers to race onto. Invariably it was Morrison and Scowcroft who reached the ball first, and in this way chance after chance was created for the away side.
The game seemed quite even for the first half hour, although Saint`s fragile defensive partnership of Makin and Bennett never looked far from self-destruction. Eventually their concentration cracked, though, and James Scowcroft guided a simple header past Bialkowski from 6 yards. As if this piece of docile defensive work was not proof enough for the Southampton board that money needs to be invested on at least one centre half, what happened next would surely convince them. Less than a minute later, Bialkowski was fishing the ball from his net again, following the most basic of errors from on-loan Bennett. The ball over his head left him completely stranded. Milk has turned faster. Scowcroft accelerated past the Irishman and had no trouble lobbing the young Pole for his second.
Despite the unswerving school-boy errors from the Reading man, the Saints still managed a few decent attempts on goal: Rasiak drew a good save from Speroni and Hudson was lucky not to score an own goal before Saganowski lashed home from ten yards with the last kick off the first half. The time that followed even threatened to inspire some optimism from the downtrodden supporters, with Surman`s rasping half-volley forcing Speroni into a flying save. However, it didn`t take long for Bennett`s incessant misjudgements to spread panic to other areas of the pitch. On fifty-five minutes Bialkowski almost let a long clearance bounce past him, instead palming the ball down onto the head of Scowcroft to complete what must go down as one of the easiest hat-tricks ever scored.
A Palace free-kick resulted in Morrison sliding home a fourth, this time Wright joining Bennett in Titus Bramble`s school of defensive cock-ups. By this time it was over, and despite Bennett being out-paced by the slowest of the slow, Shefki Kuqi, Saints survived without conceding more goals. Credit must go to Chris Makin, who offered up an excellent display, considering he was out of position and partnering the worst player on the pitch. Rasiak, Safri and Surman did all they could, but neither can the rest of the team be held accountable for the defensive frailties that cost the side at least one point.
There are positives to yesterday`s thrashing, though. It would be far more worrying to have lost, say 1-0, in a performance that looked devoid of any creativity and hope. The problem is plain to see, and if it is fixed, the rest of the side are easily good enough to challenge at the top end of the league. Two centre halves are needed, and they must be full-blooded and passionate, in the mould of Darren Moore at Derby. If Burley must sell Jones to do this, then so be it. The team desperately needs someone to rely on at the back, so Burley and the board have a job to do. The fans no longer want to hear that they are ‘stepping up their efforts`, what they fans want are signings, and good ones. Money may be a problem, but petty boardroom squabbles must not interfere with giving Southampton football club the best chance of escape from this league.
Young and learning, incompetance from Bennett didn’t help him. 4
Wholehearted performance, no lack of effort. 6
Not an impressive start, but showed some decent touches to suggest that once he settles, he could be a sound purchase. 5
Never seen a worse perfromance from a Saints player. 2
Excellent commitment and chasing back 7
Lack of pre-season didnt help, but still a decent display. 6
A class above. 8
At fault for the final goal, would have been fine if the defence hadn’t been so leaky. 5
Good, attacking, dynamic in the middle. 7
Never seen him run so much in a match, which is the only real criticism anyone can level at him usually. 8
Good goal, ran hard. 7
Should have started the game, in my opinion. Got forward, even from left back. 7
Inneffective but had little chance to shine. 5
Looked very sharp, good run and shot on 80 minutes. 7