Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 0
Sadio Mane gave Southampton’s top-four ambitions a timely shot in the arm, ending their 387-minute wait for a goal as they secured a late – and potentially season-defining – win against Crystal Palace.
This performance was a far cry from the impressive, swashbuckling Saints who wowed onlookers and confounded the doubters earlier in the campaign.
They toiled once again as a run of one win in five matches looked set to be extended, yet Mane’s late clipped effort saw Palace beaten 1-0 to halt their decline, moving Ronald Koeman’s men to within a point of the top-four.
For 83 minutes it had looked like Alan Pardew’s side would become the latest visiting side to frustrate the hosts at St Mary’s, with Eljero Elia managing the only notable effort despite Saints having as much as 75 per cent possession in the first half.
Martin Atkinson, refereeing his first match since the controversial 1-1 draw between Chelsea and Burnley, waved away a Dwight Gayle penalty appeal during that tepid opening period, although the Eagles improved markedly after the break.
Fraser Forster had to be alert to deny Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie, with the latter save leading to Wilfried Zaha sending a low strike off the post as Saints continued to struggle at the other end.
It looked like being another one of those days until seven minutes from time, when substitute James Ward-Prowse burst through and struck an effort at Julian Speroni, whose weak parry allowed Mane to clip home to the clear relief of the majority here.